Defamation cases usually bring to mind high-profile celebrities or teenage bullies on social media. However, defamation can happen in any workplace. Defamation is when a false statement about you hurts your reputation and career. Such a statement may come from a colleague or supervisor and occur during daily tasks, a performance review or in a reference check for a new job.
However, not just any inappropriate or disrespectful remark qualifies as defamation. It must meet the following requirements for you to have a case:
Presentation of fact
Coworkers are bound to have opinions about people, including rude ones. These are not defamatory because they are only someone’s perspective. A person must present the statement as fact and not opinion for it to be defamation.
Lack of truth
Furthermore, the statement must not be true, and usually, it is intentionally a lie meant to harm you. Any truth to the remark may make defamation harder to prove, though it does not automatically disqualify the case. However, hurtful words may contribute to a hostile work environment or sexual harassment, both of which are also eligible for taking legal action.
Someone saying cruel things to your face is hostile but not defamatory. The person must share the damaging falsehoods to others. It may be through conversation or other methods of communication. Oral communication, or slander, is more common in the workplace. If the audience is privileged, such as health care providers or law enforcement officers, it may not count as defamation.
Finally, the remarks must cause you professional damage, not just hurt feelings, meaning the lies must also be relevant to work and not to something unrelated, like fashion sense. Other employees may avoid you due to the rumors, or you may lose an opportunity for a promotion thanks to the lies. If you are seeking new employment, the falsehoods may cost you the job.