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Badmouthed By A Former Boss? What To Know About Defamation

While employer/employee relationships usually end on a positive — or at least neutral — note, some former employees end up dealing with a vengeful prior boss who badmouths them. If this has happened to you, do you have any legal recourse? Here's what you need to know about defamation and employment laws.

What Is Defamation by a Former Employer?

Defamation is a statement that injures another person's reputation. In a legal context, it takes two forms: slander is spoken defamation, and libel is written defamation. This statement must be false and it must injure you in some way. One of the most common defamations is telling untruths during references for future employment. You are generally injured because you were not hired or given a promotion based on the false statement. 

Defamation also requires that the slander or libel be published. Publishing generally means that a third party hears or reads the statement. Telling a lie about you on a reference call is a good example. It can also happen through email, in public conversations, or even in internal company notes that are likely to be seen by future employers. 

What Is Not Defamation by a Former Employer? 

So, what is not defamation for legal purposes? The most important factor to start with is whether the statement was false or not. True statements are not legally injurious. And in fact, if the employer honestly believes the statement to be true, it may not be considered defamatory.

In addition, the statement cannot be simply an opinion. So, an employer falsely saying you were fired for stealing is defaming you whereas one who says you were a slow worker may not be. This can be one of the most challenging hurdles to pass when it comes to defamation by former employers. 

And finally, the defamatory statement cannot be protected by qualified or absolute privilege. Privilege generally involves protection from lawsuits for making a statement they believe to be true while discharging some duty (such as fair criticism, legal proceedings, or dealings with an oversight board). 

Where Can You Get Help?

Clearly, defending yourself against untruths spread by unhappy former employers is difficult. The best resource you can get is the help of a qualified employment law attorney in your state. With their guidance, you can build a solid case, get damages if necessary, or even force the employer to stop their harmful actions. Contact someone like Allen D. Arnold Attorney at Law to learn more.