Can an employer be held liable for slander if they say you did something without having proof?

I recently received my annual performance review and I learned that on several occasions during the performance year, I created an atmosphere of communicating in a combative manner towards management and other co-workers. My manager stated that my demeanor and tone changes when I become frustrated or disagree with something that has happened in the HR department. My manager went on to say that I would have to take a communication training course through the company’s EAP service. EAP has to deal with depression, anxiety, eating disorders etc. If I don’t contact EAP, my bonus will be withheld.

Asked on September 19, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, North Carolina

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Defamation is the public making--so to third parties; not just to you--of an untrue statement of fact--not an opinion--which damages a person's reputation.

From what you write, it is unlikely you have a claim for defamation (slander, which you inquire into, is oral or spoken defamation, while libel is written defamation):

1) Saying that you create an atmosphere of communicating in a combative manner, or that your demeanor or tone changes, is an opinion; it is not a factual statement. (A factual statement in a work context would be claiming that you clock in late when you don't, or stole something, when you didn't; these are facts that can be proven one way or another, not a person's interpretation or opinion as to your conduct). Opinions are not defamation, even if they are hurtful.

2) If the manager only said it to you, that is not defamation; there is no law against saying negative things, even negative untrue facts, directly to a person. It is only when negative untrue facts are stated to others that there may be defamation.


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