Defamation of Character in the Workplace

The gossip mill is a popular activity for many co-workers, but that gossip isn’t always a true defamation of character. Although gossip often contains libel and/or slander, it is often just used for idle chit-chat and nothing more. Defamation of your character, however, can occur when your employer makes false verbal or written statements about you that damage your personal and professional reputation. If you have suffered harm because of an employer’s false statements, you may have a legal case to bring.


What Are Common Ways That Defamation of Character Takes Place?

For most people who suffer harm from character defamation, it is because an employer is looking for an excuse to fire them. As an example, a supervisor at a healthcare facility in Colorado was accused of sexually harassing employees back in 2008. This supervisor was fired because of the reported conduct, but when pressed for details during a subsequent investigation, the dates of the sexual harassment allegedly occurring were not days where the supervisor was on duty.

Because the false accusations led to harm, namely the supervisor being fired, this supervisor had a case for character defamation. If the supervisor’s employer had demoted him or even reduced his pay, this would also constitute harm and therefore be character defamation. He sued, won a judgment against his former employer for wrongful termination, and now currently manages a retail store selling fair trade items.

Character defamation can also occur when a previous employer makes false statements to a potential employer or during a background check. What both examples require is a statement of fact for character defamation to legally occur. Using the supervisor from Colorado as an example:


• If this supervisor’s employer told a future employer that he was just a bad supervisor, this is considered a personal opinion and it isn’t character defamation.
• If this supervisor’s employer told a future employer that he was fired for sexually harassing employees, this would be character defamation because an investigation and judgment determined that these accusations were false.

Any Public Comment By an Employer That Is False Can Be Defamation

Character defamation occurs when someone’s reputation within their local community is unjustly lowered by the actions of another. If an employee steals money and an employer discusses this on a blog post, it isn’t character defamation because the employee really did steal the money! If an employer says that their employee stole money and they did not, however, all an employee must do is show proof that they never stole any money to prove character defamation.

It is never fun to have people talking behind your back or telling lies about you. That’s why it is ultimately better to establish a quality reputation for yourself so that if lies about your character are told, people won’t believe them to be true. If you suffer some form of harm, however, you may also have a case for character defamation.

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