The workplace is — unfortunately — rife with gossip. Walk by almost any office or cubicle, and you’ll catch an earful of someone’s opinion on someone else. Unfortunately, gossip can cross the line into defamation. When defamation is spoken, it’s considered slanderous, while published defamation is libelous. If it happens to you, there are steps you should take to resolve the situation.
Establish whether the communication is actually defamation or simply an opinion. Though sometimes hurtful, an opinion is just someone’s belief or assessment of you, such as being moody or not being nice. For a statement to be defamatory, it typically must attack your professional character or allege crime or moral turpitude, and it must be false.
Take the slanderous statement to your immediate supervisor once you determine if it’s actually defamatory. During the meeting, establish the next steps to take to remedy the situation. And depending your relationship with your supervisor, you may want to inquire if some sort of disciplinary action will be taken to reprimand the offender and the timeline of this action.
Enlist the help of your human resources department if your manager is unreceptive to your claims or involved with the disparaging remarks herself. Most human resources departments understand their role in protecting the company — let alone the employees. Effective HR departments will act quickly to resolve the problem to avoid exposing the company to potential legal troubles.
Document everything, from your correspondence with management and human resources to the slanderous You need to generate a paper trail to protect your reputation and job security. If, God forbid, management retaliates, the paper trail gives you a legal leg to stand on.
Seek legal representation if the organization fails to protect you. You should give your employer the chance to remedy the problem before taking legal action, but consulting with an attorney gives you a better understanding of what’s considered slander, libel and defamation. Don't hesitate to reach out to a lawyer, even during the very beginning stages of an employer's investigation into the charges.
- Before going to your supervisor or human resources department, define how the statement was injurious to you. Did it hurt your reputation in the workplace? Did you lose clients because of the assertions? Has it affected your earnings? Simply being offended by a slanderous e-mail isn’t enough to claim defamation, so figure out how it's impacted you. That being said, office gossip itself can be enough for a formal reprimand for the bigmouths, so don’t shy away from bringing the situation to the attention of people who can resolve the problem.
- Resist the urge to discuss the situation with others in the office, which could be taken as “defaming “ the other person’s character.
Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.