What is Defamation in the Workplace? (Workplace Slander)

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The workplace is the place where the majority of people spend most of their time. It should be a safe place that is free from anything that is meant to harm another person.

Defamation in the workplace, while it is not technically illegal, can be an extremely serious matter that should be handled swiftly. This type of harassment in the workplace can destroy the livelihood of those who fall victim to it.

Are you wondering what is considered to be defamation in the workplace? Read on to learn more.

What is Defamation?

Essentially, defamation refers to false and damaging statements made about another person to destroy their reputation. These types of statements can be either verbal, written, or even posted on social media platforms.

Whatever the case may be, in most cases of defamation, the purpose of the statements is meant to be harmful to the other party. It is important to understand that defamation, while morally wrong and illegal, is not a case for criminal courts.

What is Defamation in the Workplace?

Defamation in the workplace is an extremely serious matter and can harm the victim’s reputation thus resulting in reprimand or even termination from employment. Additionally, because of the damage that defamation can do to a person’s reputation, it could prevent them from getting a job in another company.

In many cases, the cause for such damaging statements about another person is often done out of jealousy or greed. When the victim is seen as receiving unearned praise or promotion, they may fall prey to a coworker attempting to ruin their reputation.

While some cases of defamation are not considered to be illegal in some states, it is important to keep in mind that it can still be brought to civil court. This is because it is viewed as personal injury and the person may be forced to pay for certain damages.

Different Forms of Defamation in the Workplace

When it comes to defamation in the workplace, it is also important to understand that it can be done in a variety of ways. In some cases, defamation can occur without another person even knowing that it has happened.

Curious about the different forms of defamation that can occur in the workplace? Keep reading to learn more.

Defamation of Character (Slander)

The most common type of defamation found in the workplace is an attack on a person’s character, or slander. This type of defamation occurs when someone begins to spread rumors about another person in the workplace.

Slander is often done verbally and, like most rumors, tends to spread like wildfire around the office or workplace. One person says something about another coworker and before you know it the entire office is buzzing with false statements about an individual.

While slander is the most common form of defamation, it is also one of the most difficult types of cases to prove. This is because there is often no solid evidence of where the rumor got started since it is more likely to end with a “he said, she said” argument.

Often, in cases of slander, the victim’s reputation goes downhill since it is much easier to believe that a rumor is true than not. In many slander cases, the employee who is the victim of the rumor is often either demoted or let go by their supervisor.

Slander is one of the most difficult types of defamation for a person to recover from since much of it is based on false accusations. Even if the person who started the rumors is seen for what they have done, it is difficult to stop believing the damaging statements about the other person.

Defamation in Libel

Libel is the type of defamation that can be more easily proven than slander since it is based on written communication. This is especially true if the malicious person has written and distributed the false statements through electronic avenues.

For example, an email sent to other coworkers or even supervisors in the workplace is captured electronically. This means that once the person sends it, the email is beyond their control.

Because the damaging statements are sent via electronic means, it is often kept or passed around to other people. Since this is often the case, the sender’s name is typically attached for everyone to see.

This type of defamation can be proven more easily especially if the statements are sent through electronic means. Because this is true, the victim typically has a strong case that can be taken to civil court.

Another way to defame someone via libel is to publish these types of damaging statements on social media platforms. Similar to sending emails, once a social media post is out there, it can go viral in a heartbeat.

How to Prove Defamation in the Workplace

As previously mentioned, defamation in the workplace can be quite difficult to prove depending on the type of communication being used. In most cases, it is up to the complainant to prove that a crime existed through various pieces of evidence and witnesses.

When attempting to prove that defamation indeed did occur, the complainant must have strong evidence that proves it to be true. These types of evidence could mean witnesses whose statements were made or even the written communication that contains the defamation.

Keep reading below to learn what types of evidence a person must have to prove that defamation occurred.

Intent to Defame

The complainant must be able to prove that the person making the damaging statement has done so with the intent to defame the person. In most cases, there are two parts to this proof which include that they knew they were making a false statement and did so with the intent to harm the other person.

The intent is one of the harder factors to prove because it requires getting into the head of the perpetrator. There has to be proof that the person did what they did with the sole purpose of hurting another person.

Publication of the Defamation

While most people assume publication of damaging statements only refers to putting something in writing, it can also mean that the perpetrator made a statement out loud to another person. To prove this, you would need to have the witnesses who received the statement or the written documentation of the statement.

Reference to the Complainant

When proving that defamation occurred, the complainant must first show that the damaging statements were made directly about them. This means that in either witness statements or written proof, the name of the victim has to be evident.

Proof of Damage or Harm

Another piece of evidence that the complainant must provide in a case of defamation is that the statements resulted in the harm of some kind. This could be that they received a demotion at work or were subsequently fired due to the defamatory statement.

What are the Consequences of Defamation in the Workplace?

Defamation in the workplace is a serious matter that should not be taken lightly by the employer, other employees, or even the victim. Because of this, there are several consequences that a perpetrator can suffer if they are found to be guilty of workplace defamation.

At the very least, they can be subjected to consequences that are given by the employer such as loss of hours, loss of pay, or even termination. Because most employees are considered at-will or have signed a contract, an employer can take action against them if they have purposely harmed another employee.

When someone has been a victim of defamation in the workplace, they also have the right to file a lawsuit against them. This is especially true if they have been demoted or terminated as a direct result of the defamation.

If the case is proven to be true in the courts, the perpetrator will likely be made to pay for damages that resulted from the loss of employment, loss of pay, and emotional distress.

Tips for Preventing Defamation in the Workplace

Preventing defamation in the workplace is the job of both the employer and employees to ensure that everyone is kept safe. By taking specific steps and precautions, you can prevent defamation from occurring.

Here are some tips that you should keep in mind whether you are an employee or an employer in the workplace:

  • Be mindful when you are making statements about another person to ensure that what you are saying is true and not harmful
  • Employers should have clear and concise policies in place to prohibit employees from making false statements about coworkers and the workplace, in general,
  • Employers should provide opportunities for employees to receive training on how to interact and communicate with others
  • Employers should have policies in place that allow them to actively monitor employee communication which could include memos being sent out as well as email communication

Reference Legal Explanations

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  • "What is Defamation in the Workplace? (Workplace Slander)". Legal Explanations. Accessed on May 29, 2024. https://legal-explanations.com/blog/what-is-defamation-in-the-workplace-workplace-slander/.

  • "What is Defamation in the Workplace? (Workplace Slander)". Legal Explanations, https://legal-explanations.com/blog/what-is-defamation-in-the-workplace-workplace-slander/. Accessed 29 May, 2024

  • What is Defamation in the Workplace? (Workplace Slander). Legal Explanations. Retrieved from https://legal-explanations.com/blog/what-is-defamation-in-the-workplace-workplace-slander/.