Defamation consists of false statements made about you to a third party in an attempt to damage your reputation. A current or former employer may commit defamation by bearing false witness against you to prospective employers who may decide not to hire you on the basis of the untrue information.
There are two different types of defamatory statements: slander and libel. Though they are different, the laws apply similarly to each.
What is the difference between slander and libel?
Both slander and libel consist of false statements communicated to a third party and damaging to your reputation. Slander refers to oral statements spoken out loud to a third party. Libel consists of comments published in a fixed medium. This can involve writing but also includes television broadcasts, cartoons, etc.
Who can be liable for defamation?
In addition to the original publisher, i.e., the person who issued the initial untrue statement, it may also be possible to hold re-publishers responsible for repeating the original false information.
Why is it difficult to successfully bring a defamation lawsuit?
A statement must meet very strict criteria to qualify as libel or slander. Otherwise, litigation of defamation could violate the free speech provisions in the United States Constitution.
What must you prove in a defamation case?
Perhaps most importantly, you must prove that the statement is false. A true statement is not defamation. You must either show that your employer communicated the false information to a third party intentionally or negligently allowed the third party to receive it. You must also demonstrate that the statement caused damage to your reputation by seriously accusing you of an act that is either illegal or violates commonly held standards of ethics.
Additionally, you must show that the meaning of the statement is defamatory. Even if the literal text might accuse you of a crime or impropriety, it is not defamation if the context makes it clear that the statement is figurative or metaphorical.