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Defamation of Character Explained

Defamation of Character Explained

Posted by Kathy Harrington-Sullivan | Dec 05, 2013 | 0 Comments

Employment Related Defamation of Character

Whether you're a public figure or a private citizen, at some time in your life, someone is likely going to say something negative about you. Although it might be offensive or upsetting, there's often little you can do about the situation legally. However, if it is blatant lie that is shared with third parties and it causes you financial detriment, you may be able to take your adversary to court.

Defamation is the action of damaging one's reputation, which includes libel, or written defamation, and slander, or spoken defamation.

  • Slander is verbal defamation
  • Libel is defamation in writing or in print

Employment related defamation of character can occur if an employer makes false statements about you to a third party, such as a background check agency or a prospective employer. Defamation issues can also arise in the workplace if an employer defames you so he or she as an excuse to fire you. In order to be defamation in the legal sense, the statement has to be based on fact and not opinion.

For example:

  • If an employer says you are a bad worker, this is a statement of opinion, and cannot be considered defamation even if it is completely untrue
  • If an employer says you stole money from the company, and this is untrue, this is a statement of fact, and can be considered defamation

You may have a case for defamation if one's statement encompasses the following:

  • False – No matter how scathing a review or how hurtful a comment, you can't sue for defamation if the statement can't be proved to be objectively false. Also, in Georgia, you will need to be able to present evidence of the actual words used by the person who has defamed you.
  • Published – A third party must see or hear the false statement for it to be considered defamation. For instance, if someone publishes a false comment about you in an Internet chat room that states you are guilty of committing a crime, this would more than likely suffice to meet the “publication” requirement pursuant to Georgia defamation law.
  • Injurious – If the comment causes damage to you, it is considered injurious. For instance, if someone starts an untrue rumor that you are doing drugs, and you lose your job because of it, you should consult a defamation attorney.
  • Unprivileged – In some cases, individuals cannot be sued for making defamatory allegations. This may include witnesses who testify in court or legislators who make comments in certain situations. Also, in an employment context, employees who have an intra-corporate privilege to convey information to other employees that have a duty or authority to receive the information may be protected by a privilege.

The above examples are general guidelines but do not encompass the complexities of defamation law. Defamation can be one of the most difficult cases to prove, but one of the most disastrous to an individual's professional reputation. If the lies spoken or written by someone else have caused you to endure damages, contact the defamation attorneys at Barrett & Farahany, LLP, LLP.

About the Author

Kathy Harrington-Sullivan

Kathy Harrington Sullivan is a Partner at Barrett & Farahany and manages the firm's case evaluation team. Because knowledge truly is power, Kathy and the Atlanta employment attorneys on her team regularly consult with and empower potentia...

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