Defamation occurs when a person makes an intentionally false statement which harms another. It is considered a personal injury, meaning you may be eligible for damages for both financial losses and emotional distress.
Defamation is considered slander when it is an oral statement, while it is libel if it is a written statement.
In a job context, the defendant is often an employer or a former employer and typically occurs when the working relationship with an employee has ended and a reference request is made to the employer. When it comes to this type of situation, the employer makes false statements about the reasons why the employee left the job that damages the employee's reputation.
To win a defamation case, an employee must prove the following:
- The employer made false statements about the worker – Opinions and false statements are not subject to a defamation claim--despite the amount of harm it does.
- The employer made false statements known – In other words, the employer made false statements to another party, whether it's a prospective employer or another employee.
- The employer knows or should've known the statements were false – If an employer repeats damaging rumors or ignores the facts behind the statements made, he/she is subject to a defamation claim. However, if the employer actually believes the statement as truth, there is no claim.
- The false statement resulted in harm suffered by the employee – There are some statements that are viewed as defamatory "per se" because they are recognized as harmful by the law. Common examples include lacking the qualifications for the job or being accused of a crime. On the other hand, statements that need to be proven include those that contributed to not getting hired for a job.
The main types of money damages a plaintiff may recover if he/she wins a defamation lawsuit includes lost pay, lost benefits, pain and suffering, and even punitive damages. However, the best civil lawsuit is hard to win, and the compensation you may be awarded is uncertain.
If a former employer makes false statements about you, then you need to speak with an experienced attorney to determine if you have a legal claim for defamation.