Texas Laws about Workplace Defamation
Defamation is a false statement made about someone. Libel is the type of defamation that occurs when the statement is in writing. Slander is the type of defamation that occurs when the statement is oral.
Under Texas law, bringing an action for defamation has several requirements. First, the statement must be unequivocally false. If there are different ways to interpret the statement, one of which could be true, then the statement is not legally defamation.
Further, the more a statement involves "moral turpitude," the stronger a defamation case will be. A statement that someone is a bad employee, was late to work, failed to sell enough widgets, and so on is not the sort of false statement that indicates bad moral character. On the other hand, a statement that an employee stole money, sexually harassed another worker, or tells lies can cause lasting damage to a worker's character.
In Texas, there is an additional element to prove defamation: malice. It is not enough that an employer makes a false and hurtful statement about an employee's character the employer must have done it with malice. To prove malice, you should be able to show anger, cruelty, or other facts that indicate that the employer was truly out to get you. Employers often defend themselves against accusations of malice by claiming they were exercising business judgment, made a mistake, or believed that they were acting in good faith. Finally, an employee must be able to show harm and damages arising from the defamatory statement. Hurt feelings probably are insufficient to show harms and damages. However, demotion, termination, or failure to be hired at a new job can cause significant lost wages and other economic damages.
When is the Employer Liable?
When a supervisor or coworker makes a defamatory statement about you, it is important to think about who can be held liable. Obviously, because a company has a better ability to pay a large damage award, most employees will want to sue their employer rather than a coworker or supervisor.
An employer accused of defamation will likely claim that, even if defamation occurred, it is not the employer's responsibility. Rather, the employer will argue that the coworker or supervisor who made the defamatory statement is solely liable and that the employer has no responsibility.
On the other hand, if a supervisor makes a defamatory statement, you complain about it to the company, and the company takes no action, the company will generally be liable. The key is that for the employer to be liable, the defamatory statement must have been made by employees or agents of the company within the course and scope of their employment. In other words, the defamation must go beyond simply an individual worker making a statement, but it somehow must be attributed to the employer.
If in fact an employer is not liable for defamation, and only the coworker or supervisor can be sued, it is hard to justify legal action based on money alone. Few individuals have an ability to pay a judgment in this situation, so the most important thing to get may be "injunctive relief." Injunctive relief would be an order from a court preventing the coworker or supervisor from continuing to make defamatory statements. If a court issues an injunction against a coworker or supervisor, and that person violates the order, a court could impose money fines or even jail time.
Defamation of the Internet
The Internet has greatly increased our ability to communicate, and it has also increased the ability to defame people in hurtful ways. This can be particularly harmful to an employee because everyone can see it, and it can also be posted anonymously.
Often, websites will not remove defamatory statements. In fact, a federal law promoting free speech puts the burden of removing an offensive post on the user/poster, rather than the host website (such as Facebook).
To get defamation removed from a website, often you must first take legal action against the poster. If the poster's identity cannot be confirmed, then a subpoena or other legal action towards the Internet provider is required. Unfortunately, when the identity of the poster is not known, these actions can be very expensive.
Contact a Workplace Defamation Lawyer
The Law Office of Rob Wiley, P.C., represents employees who are victims of workplace defamation, slander, and libel. If you believe that you have experienced workplace defamation, please contact us.