- For Attorneys
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.