What is the meaning of defamation of character in the workplace?

Workplace defamation of character involves going beyond making negative comments about someone. Defamation lawsuits usually involve complaints about the circulation of written or verbal statements about people that are false and damage their reputation and career. Furthermore, acts of defamation can affect a company's current and former employees.

False Information

Workplace defamation of character can occur if an employer purposely hampers a former worker's job prospects by making false statements about that person to a prospective employer who is checking employment references. Some state laws protect employers from defamation lawsuits in certain circumstances. For example, the Texas labour code protects employers from lawsuits when providing job references if they don't knowingly provide false information to other employers. Such laws usually protect employers even if the information they convey is negative.

Opinion vs. Fact

An employer looking for a reason to fire a worker may be defaming the worker by purposely making false statements about that person. However, the types of statements made affect whether the worker is defamed. Legal Match, an attorney-client matching service, indicates that a statement of opinion generally doesn't qualify as defamation. For example, an employer who falsely claims you did a bad job on a work-related project is expressing an opinion that doesn't qualify as defamation. However, an employer who falsely claims you made unauthorised purchases with a company credit card is making a statement of fact that's potentially defamatory.

Burden of Proof

People who sue over work-related defamation of character usually need to prove that defamatory statements or documents caused them significant harm professionally. For example, an employee needs to show he failed to get a promotion due to defamatory statements made by his manager. However, Legal Match notes that an employee may win a wrongful-termination lawsuit if he can prove he lost his job because of false statements his boss made to defame him.


Former employees who can show they're targets of blacklisting can file a defamation lawsuit against the employer behind it. The Nolo law information website indicates that blacklisting takes place when a former employer sets out to prevent a worker from getting another job in his industry. According to Nolo, one sign that blacklisting may have occurred is when several prospective employers appear interested in hiring someone and then suddenly lose interest in extending a job offer to that person.

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About the Author

Frances Burks has more than 15 years experience in writing positions, including work as a news analyst for executive briefings and as an Associated Press journalist. Burks has banking and business development experience, and she has written numerous articles on consumer issues and home improvement. Burks holds a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Michigan.

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