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What if my manager says false things about me?

A person is “defamed” when one person communicates a lie or makes a false accusation about another person, either orally or in writing, to a third person, which causes damage to the person’s reputation. Defamation can be written or verbal. The legal term for written defamation is “libel.” The legal term for oral defamation is “slander.”

In the employment setting, defamation most often occurs if a supervisor or manager makes a false accusation of dishonesty or serious misconduct against an employee in front of co-workers or members of management or if an employer provides false information to a potential employer calling for a reference.

Many termination cases are potential defamation cases. Sometimes the employer states facts about work performance or competency which can be proven to be 100% false.

A company-in order to carry on its business efficiently-is entitled to what is known as a “qualified privilege” to make statements about its employees regarding discipline, termination, and references. It is not enough that your employer made a false statement about you. The person making the statements must have acted maliciously, known that the statement was false, or have been reckless in determining whether the statement was true or not.

If your employer simply makes a mistake in providing a reference by looking at the wrong file, for instance, you do not have a claim for defamation, even though your employer gave out false information. If your employer gives an unfavorable opinion about your work to another person, you do not have a claim for defamation unless your employer states that the unfavorable opinion was based on a fact which is not true and which damages your reputation. Opinions generally cannot be the basis for a claim of defamation.

Finally, you must prove that your reputation has been injured in order to recover for defamation. Some false statements are obviously injurious to reputation (“She stole from the company right and left”) while others must be shown to have actually injured your reputation in the community.

This is a selection from Job Rights and Survival Strategies by Paul H. Tobias and Susan Sauter.