Whether you are a current or former employee, there are some things an employer simply can't say about you. If you discover that an employer is bad-mouthing you -- intentionally saying things to attack your character or mar your good name -- you have the power to do something about it.
Depends Upon the State
Each state has its own laws to protect employees and employers and one common concept is referred to as “qualified privilege.” Under the qualified privilege rule, employers are allowed to say or publish any information about you as long as the information is accurate, communicated on a “need to know” basis and non-discriminatory in nature. They may communicate this information to employees or other third parties, including potential employers who are calling for a reference.
Depends Upon The Words
Whether your employer's behavior is allowed also depends upon what you consider bad-mouthing. In many instances, an employer is allowed to say unpleasant things about you as long as the words are true. If she is speaking words that are not true, she runs the risk of being held liable for slander or defamation of character. The employer is not allowed to speak truth in malice, even under the “qualified privilege” rule. If her words are malicious or spiteful in nature -- meaning that she knows they are false and says them anyway -- she can be held liable.
Determining What's Being Said
There are ways to determine whether an employer is really bad-mouthing you. One way is to ask current or former co-workers. If you feel the employer is bad-mouthing you to potential employers, hire an investigative agency to determine if your suspicions are true. These investigative agencies often pose as potential employers to discover what former employers are saying about you.
What You Can Do
If you determine the employer is saying or publishing false, defamatory statements about you, you have legal grounds to file a slander or defamation of character lawsuit. If a lawsuit is filed, the employer must prove the bad-mouthing statement she made is true. To determine if a lawsuit is appropriate, you probably must consult an employment attorney. Depending upon the state, you may have a specific time frame to file your lawsuit. For instance, in Ohio, you have up to one year to file a lawsuit.
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