Defamation of Character in the Workplace?

Your career is built on your reputation. Today, with online reviews and information at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to offer an opinion and share facts about a person or a workplace. Information sharing can quickly become problematic when someone says something defamatory about you that hurts your career. One defamatory statement can keep you from getting a job, or it can cost you a job that you already have.

But what’s defamation and what’s fair criticism? How does defamation of character apply in the workplace? Here’s what you need to know about defamation of character in the workplace in Florida.

Do Florida’s Legal Protections Against Defamation Apply in the Workplace?

Yes, you have the right to be free from false, malicious statements against you in the workplace. If a co-worker, employer, or even a customer says something defamatory about you, you may have the right to take action.

While Florida law allows people to share facts and opinions, you have the right in your professional life to be free from libelous and slanderous statements. When it comes to your career, your professional reputation is everything. You have the right to fight back against libel and slander in the workplace.

What Is Defamation of Character in Florida?

In Florida, defamation of character occurs when the fraudulent statement of someone else hurts one person’s reputation. Defamation of character is when someone else spreads untruths that hurt someone else’s character.

The two types of defamation are libel and slander. Libel is defamation that’s transmitted in writing. Slander is defamation that’s spread by speaking. Both libel and slander are unlawful in Florida. Victims of defamation of character have the right to fair compensation for their damages.

How Do You Prove Defamation of Character in the Workplace in Florida?

There are five elements to a defamation of character in the workplace case in Florida:

The Statement Must Be False

The first step to proving defamation of character is showing that the statement is false. A statement is not defamatory if it’s true. Even if a statement is very damaging, a person can share it as much as they want to if it’s true. A true statement can’t be defamatory.

The Statement Must Be Defamatory

Next, a statement is only defamation if it’s defamatory. If a person spreads false compliments about you, it’s not defamation. To be defamation of character, the statement must be injuring to your reputation.

In the context of the workplace, a defamatory statement may be personal or professional. For example, a statement that someone stole money from the company may be defamation in the workplace because it has to do with someone’s professional reputation. But, a claim that they slept with the boss to get a promotion, while personal, may be likewise damaging to the person’s career. If the statement hurts a person’s reputation, rather than being neutral or positive, the statement may be defamatory.

A Person Must Communicate the Statement to a Third Party

To be actionable as defamation of character, the offending party must communicate the false statement to a third party. If someone writes a bunch of untrue things in their personal journal, there’s no defamation of character. It’s only when the person spreads the false statements to others that they may be committing defamation of character.

They Must Make the Statement Negligently, Knowing It Might Be False

Because people have the right to share accurate information, they also have the right to make honest mistakes. To win a defamation of character case, you must prove that the person was at least negligent when it comes to the fact that they should have known that the statement wasn’t true. That means showing a reasonable person would have or should have had some idea that the statement was false.

The Victim Must Be Harmed Because of the Statement

Finally, to prove a defamation case in Florida, the person the statement is about must show how they’re injured by the statement. They must show how the statements cost them financially, or they must show how the statements harmed them emotionally or socially. Our experienced Tampa personal injury attorneys can help you examine your case to see if the comments made against you amount to defamation under Florida law.

Does Florida Allow Lawsuits for Defamation of Character?

Yes, Florida allows a defamation of character case as a civil tort case. Defamation of character is recognized under Florida law. Victims may take action to recover damages if they satisfy all of the elements for a claim for defamation of character.

Public Employment at the Nodar v. Galbreath Case

Defamation of character in the workplace becomes a more complicated question when the subject of the statement is a public employee. Both U.S. and Florida law recognize a strong right of individuals to criticize public officials. Whether the statement is about an elected official or a hired public employee, the standards are very high for proving defamation of character in the workplace.

In the Nodar v Galbreath case, a teacher brought a defamation of character case against the parent of one of her students. The parent called the teacher unqualified at a school board meeting. Even though the jury ruled in favor of the teacher, the Supreme Court of Florida reversed the decision and ruled in favor of the parent.

The Supreme Court of Florida said that the teacher must show actual malice to bring a defamation claim because a teacher’s abilities are a public issue. The Court said that it’s possible for a comment to be so bad that it shows malice by itself. But usually, the person who is the subject of the statement must have evidence that the person who made the statement did so maliciously. In the case of a public employee and a statement about a public issue, it’s a very high standard to show defamation of character.

Contact Jack Bernstein, Injury Attorneys

Do you think that you may have been the victim of defamation of character? Are you wondering if the statement someone made about you is libel or slander? We can help.

Our team is passionate about defending your rights, and we’ve helped thousands of people just like you. Contact us today to talk about your case.

About the Author

Jack G. Bernstein, ESQ.

For more than 35 years, personal injury lawyer Jack G. Bernstein has protected the rights of individuals who have been injured in a variety of circumstances. Mr. Bernstein is a member of the Florida State Bar Association, the Hillsborough Bar Association and the Clearwater Bar Association.

The information contained herein is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.