What can I do if a co-worker is making false statements to my boss about my work?

Full Question:

I've been working at a nonprofit mental health organization for a little over a year. Throughout the period, my boss has treated me badly enough to make me feel a non-existing individual in occasional manner. My co-worker, who has a medical disability, is always late on her assignments; which I end up completing, and never on time for the meetings. Simply put, I have recently encountered an extreme circumstance where my co-worker told my boss about her own made-up incident. She basically told him things that I did not do or say. She and I co-coordinate a program at this agency and there had been some conflicts between us. My reaction to these complications was to have a meeting with her and talk them through. However, she arranged to have a meeting with our boss and sent me an email stating that everything happened while we were coordinating the program is all due to my mistakes and lack of understanding about the concepts. In fact, when she sent me this message, I noticed that she also made a 'cc' to our boss simultaneously. So I can only take this message as to reveal myself as the problem creator and she has advised me what to do and what not do so next. I was very shocked and lost a sense of understanding what her intentions with the incident. So, after encountering many complications and saving my words for the better; I've concluded to resign from the position. Now, when I submitted the letter, my boss called and left me a message, threatening to create a huge impact on my career as long as I stay in this field. I am so scared and shaking bad enough to vomit. This is the greatest stress for me right now because I'm in the process of applying for my graduate school. I seriously have no clue what he's going to do if I tell him I still want to leave. What are the worst things can he do? Can he really destroy my career just because I left the program? Is there anything I can do?
02/06/2009   |   Category: Civil Actions ยป Defamation   |   State: California   |   #15178


Slander is a type of defamation, a false statement communicated to another person that damages another’s reputation by exposing them to disrespect or ridicule from other people. In order to constitute defamation, the communication must be false. If the speaker knew or should have known the information was false and repeated it to another, resulting in harm to the person spoken about, it may be defamation.

Employers have some protection against defamation in the workplace, as a privilege may attach to statements made in the workplace, if they are related to the employee's job performance. With respect to slander in the workplace, courts have recognized valid causes of action by plaintiffs who suffered damage to their reputations from statements in discharge letters, office petitions, warning letters, performance evaluations, statements in management or employee meetings, and internal security meetings. Companies typically defend themselves in such actions by arguing that the statements communicated about the employee were true, or they had a qualified privilege to say such things. For example, this may occur when a supervisor writes a memo with negative statements about an employee's work and charging the worker with unsatisfactory performance and poor attitude. The worker is then fired, and sues the company for libel. The company will win if it can prove that the contents of the memo are the supervisor's honest opinion.

Some courts ruled that such expressions, even if harsh, are protected and cannot be the basis of a libel suit. An employer has the right, without the court's interference, to assess an employee's performance on the job, since communication by one person to another upon a subject in which both have an interest is protected by a qualified privilege. Even extremely harsh opinions have found protection in the courts. However, the company's qualified privilege may be lost if the words were spoken with malice, designed to destroy the employee's livelihood, and with knowledge that the statements were false.

The basic elements of a claim of slander include;

1. a defamatory statement;

2. published to third parties;

3. which the speaker or publisher knew or should have known was false; and

4. that caused the plaintiff injury as a result of the statement

Unlike libel, unless the slander is defamatory per se (on its face), damages caused by slander must be proven by the plaintiff. Damages for slander may be limited to actual damages unless there is malicious intent. It does not have to be proven that actual harm to your reputation occurred to collect damages for slander if it is defamatory per se, such as:

* The communication affects your business, trade or profession (loss of business, discharge, demotion, etc.),

* Implies you committed a crime,

* Leads on that you have a loathsome disease,

* Or suggests that you are somehow sexually impure.

Defamation is a difficult wrong to prove, as there are various factors that are to be taken into consideration. The court must evaluate the defendant’s investigation, or lack there of, concerning the accuracy of the statement. How thoroughly the investigation was handled will reflect upon the nature and interest of the person who communicated the statement. Generally, defamation damages will not be awarded if the defendant had an honest but yet mistaken belief in the truth of the statement.

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