Can an employer slander an employee?

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Can an employer slander an employee?

My mom’s boss told her the other day that she is dressing like crap and is no longer allowed to wear a sweater anymore. My mom has lupus. When she was put on steroids for it her weight started to fluctuate so she buys pants to fit her waist not her legs. The lupus also makes her cold all the time. The next day her boss had a employee meeting and gave everyone permission to tell someone when they look bad.

Asked on January 31, 2012 under Employment Labor Law, Maine

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

This is not slander, but it may still be actionable.

1) Slander is a form of defamation. Defamation is the public making of untrue factual statements which damage a person's reputation. Opinions are not defamation, so it's not defamation to say someone looks or dress "like crap"--that's an opinion, not a factual statement. Also, a comment made directly to a person is not defamation--only when the comment is made to third parties or publically, might it be defamation (that is, it's not defamation to insult you to your face).

2) However, companies may not discriminate against or harass the disabled due to their disability. Lupus may qualify as a disability; if so, discriminating against or harassing your mother because of how she dresses on account of her condition could be illegal. Your  mother should consult with an employment law attorney to evaluate whether she may have a cause of action. Good luck.


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