Sometimes, relationships between employers and employees simply go sour, especially when an employee might be on their way out. Both sides can turn ugly and engage in behavior that normally would be beyond the pale – and this can include spreading rumors or other false information about either the employer or employee. Both are potentially actionable through suing for defamation of character in the workplace. If you believe you have been defamed, you may be able to obtain compensation for what you have lost.
What Is Defamation?
Defamation is when a person spreads false information (or information they ought to know was false) to a third person, for the purpose of causing harm to the subject of the rumor. Slander is when the false information is passed via speaking, while libel is publishing written material. If the person who is being spoken of can show damages, such as being fired from a job or losing a promotion, the person who spread the rumor can be sued for defamation, because the inference is that the defamed person might have obtained the benefit if not for the false rumors.
In short, four things must be shown in order to successfully mount a slander or libel case – a falsehood, publication of that falsehood, damages suffered by the subject of that falsehood, and fault (recklessness or malice) on the part of the person spreading the falsehood.
The important thing to keep in mind when suing for defamation of character in the workplace: the rumor being spread must be damaging to you or the person it is about. South Carolina’s law holds that the item must “tend to injure such person in his character or reputation” or it does not rise to the level of defamation – this means that a silly story, or an isolated insult, will not meet the definition. Someone must say something truly damaging for their speech to be actionable.
South Carolina Workplace Law
In the context of the workplace, defamation usually occurs in one of two ways: either an employee is accused of defaming their employer or former employer, or an employer is accused of defaming their former employee, most often in the context of a reference sought by a potential new employer. An employee is generally accused of defamation if the employer can show that they lost goodwill and/or income due to the employee’s interference – for example, spreading false rumors or statements about the integral nature of the employer’s business, causing people to cease buying from the employer. The same principles of defamation apply to such a case as would to any case mounted by the employee.
Cases related to employer references, however, are different and understanding the distinction matters. South Carolina law explicitly holds that former employers are immune from any civil action related to giving references – more specifically, the disclosure of an employee’s performance ratings and other materials from their time at that company. Unless you are able to prove that your former employer recklessly or maliciously provided false information, you may not bring a suit just because they did not give a reference or gave a poor one.
Enlist An Experienced Legal Professional
Suing for defamation of the character in the workplace is serious. A person’s reputation is extremely precious to them and a company’s standing is just as vital to their ability to do business. If you believe yours is under attack, or you have been accused of defaming someone else, consulting a knowledgeable attorney can be critical. Attorney A. Christopher Potts and the Charleston firm of Hitchcock & Potts can assist you in navigating your defamation claim. Contact the office today to schedule an appointment.