In 2022, there were 233 defamation claims issued in London. That’s 60 per cent lower than the 545 claims recorded in 2021. However, despite this notable decrease, defamation in the workplace remains a problem, affecting individual employees and the company they work for.
Defamation typically occurs when an individual makes a false statement that damages another person’s reputation. In the UK, it’s a blanket term encompassing libel and slander.
Libel refers to defamatory statements made in a permanent or lasting form. They can take the form of print, broadcasts, or posts on social media. Conversely, slander includes temporary defamatory comments communicated verbally.
In the workplace, defamation can happen between co-workers. However, most cases of workplace defamation involve defamatory information from the manager or employer. It often arises when a potential employer requests a reference from a candidate’s current or former employer.
Suppose you’re a victim of defamation of character in the workplace. This article examines your potential legal rights and options.
Knowing your rights in defamation cases
Defamation law safeguards against harm to one’s reputation from the dissemination of false and defamatory statements. Victims of workplace defamation can take several actions to protect their good character, which include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Initiate a defamation claim for substantial damages.
- Apply for an injunction to prevent further publication of defamatory statements.
- Seek a formal apology or corrective statement from the offender.
Making a defamation claim
Not all false or degrading statements will result in defamation claims. Although you may feel hurt, not all incidents constitute defamation of character in the workplace. Before seeking legal recourse, ensure you have a valid claim with enough supporting evidence.
Under the Defamation Act 2013, a statement isn’t considered defamatory unless its publication has harmed or is likely to harm the claimant’s reputation. In simple terms, the statement must be reputationally damaging or lower the claimant’s standing in the eyes of right-thinking members of society.
Moreover, a defamatory statement directed at for-profit organisations must meet the serious harm threshold. They will only have experienced serious harm to their reputation if the statement has caused or is likely to result in significant financial loss.
Such thresholds have been established to discourage frivolous claims that harm freedom of speech and unnecessarily burden the court system.
Proving defamation in the workplace
In a case of workplace defamation, you don’t have to prove that the statements made against you were false and that the offender intended to defame you.
Instead, the individual who made the defamatory statement must establish that it’s true. However, since defamation involves serious harm inflicted on your reputation, you still need to provide proof of damages resulting from the defamatory statement.
Typical pieces of evidence may include written or verbal records of defamatory statements. Documentation of job terminations or unemployment because potential employers may not hire you can also serve as evidence.
Protecting yourself against workplace defamation
Navigating the legal parameters of workplace defamation can be challenging without guidance from a solicitor. Expert legal advice is particularly crucial, especially when attempts to resolve the issue directly with the person responsible are unsuccessful.
Working with reputation management experts may also be necessary in severe cases that require an employment tribunal. A typical example is defamatory statements circulating online that hinder you from getting another job. They can submit take-down requests to sites that post damaging, defamatory material.