Sometimes, when a job ends, it does so on bad terms. It is sadly not uncommon for employers to take the opportunity, after an employee has moved on, to speak ill of them for a variety of reasons. However, within certain circumstances, to do so is against South Carolina law. If an employer oversteps their carefully delineated bounds, you may have a claim for defamation (slander or libel) against them.
South Carolina Defamation Law
Defamation law in general is defined in South Carolina as any time that someone undergoes, with malicious intent, to “originate, utter, circulate or publish” any false statement that damages someone’s character or reputation. Slander is the spoken or oral version, while libel encompasses written statements. In South Carolina, defamation may be a criminal matter, or it may be handled in civil court.
To prove defamation, three criteria must be met. You must be able to prove that an intentionally false statement was made (or a willfully negligent statement). You must be able to prove that it was heard by a third person (that is, an outsider), and you must be able to prove that it caused demonstrable damage to you. Failure to prove any of these elements will almost certainly torpedo your case.
Employers and Defamation
Employers must obey the law, of course, but in South Carolina, there are modifications to standard defamation law that only apply to employers. Statutes hold that employers are immune from defamation suits if they only provide certain information about an employee or former employee, and do not overstep. If they only provide an employee’s dates of employment, wage history and ending pay level, the employer is immune from suit. Also, if the employer is asked to provide more, they are generally permitted to do so without fear of suit, as long as they do not knowingly or recklessly provide false information.
In other words, if you were fired from your last position, and a prospective employer contacts your old employer looking for relevant information, they may receive potentially damaging or awkward truths such as the reason you were terminated, any internal discipline reports or the like. However, because the employer asked, and because these documents are presumed accurate unless proven otherwise, you generally are not permitted to sue over their contents, even if they are damaging to your reputation. Truth (that is, the truth of the alleged false statement) is almost always an absolute defense to defamation accusations. And while the employer is required by law to advise you of any information sent to a future employer or other third party, this does not mean you will have any opportunity to contest or otherwise weigh in on the disclosure.
An Employment Lawyer Can Help
Your name is an asset, and it deserves to be protected in the same way as any other. If you have been the victim of slander or libel from a previous employer, A. Christopher Potts and the experienced attorneys at the firm of Hitchcock & Potts have the knowledge, the compassion and the resolve to help you through what can be a difficult and frightening time. Contact us today at 843-577-5000 or use our web form to book an appointment today.