If my boss recorded false statements in my personnel file, is this libel?

UPDATED: Jul 14, 2023Fact Checked

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 14, 2023

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UPDATED: Jul 14, 2023Fact Checked

If the offending material reflected only opinions, it would not be libelous. A statement such as “this employee is not ready for promotion” reflects the supervisor’s opinion only and will not be grounds for legal action.

However, if the material asserted and reflected facts, and those facts are wrong, the employer may be liable for defamation. For example, if your personnel file contains a false statement that you did something dishonest like stole money and are not to be trusted with the keys to the cash register, this may be considered a defamatory comment.

If you feel the file contains defamatory remarks that have caused you some harm, you can bring suit against your employer. To win damages in a lawsuit, you will have to prove that the statement, and any underlying support for it, is false. The element of harm must be present though, to be successful in court. This could be, for example, that you were fired as a direct result of the false statements and that because of the accusations, other employers in the industry do not want to hire you.

The most important first step after realizing that false statements were made in your personnel file is to counter-document the lie. In other words, make an official written statement with your HR representative or boss (ideally, if you have more than one boss, go to the one who did not make the statements; but if this is your only option, it’s important that you still confront them with an official statement). Write down that you deny the actions and that you request them be stricken from your professional record. Courts, as well as unemployment agents, always want to see things in writing—everything needs to be documented.

If you do plan to sue, the best possible scenario would be to get a confession of the lie from your boss. This is likely not possible so at least having a record made by yourself, or other employees, that the incident recorded by your boss never took place will help prove your case.

For defamation to be proven there are four elements that must be shown:

  1. That the statement was false;
  2. That there is no doubt you are the person being referenced (in this case, if it is your personnel file, this should be easy to prove);
  3. That the information was communicated to a third party; and
  4. That you suffered injury to your reputation.

The element of injury requires the libelous comment about you to have had a significant negative impact on your reputation. Just having other co-workers think badly of you, however, does not satisfy this element. The injury to your reputation will have to be significant enough to have caused you to be fired and unable to obtain employment in your industry or to be socially ostracized as a result of the rumor.

If you believe you may be harmed by false, libelous statements made in your employment record, contact an experienced libel and slander attorney in your jurisdiction right away.

Case Studies: Challenging False Statements in Personnel Files

Case Study 1: The Fabricated Misconduct

John, a dedicated employee at a manufacturing company, discovers that his supervisor has recorded false statements in his personnel file. The supervisor falsely accuses John of engaging in misconduct, tarnishing his professional reputation. John seeks legal advice to determine if he can take legal action against his employer for defamation.

Case Study 2: The Unjust Performance Review

Sarah, a talented marketing professional, finds out that her performance review contains fabricated negative statements about her work ethic and skills. These false statements have a detrimental impact on Sarah’s career prospects within the company and the industry. She consults with an attorney to explore her options for addressing the defamatory remarks in her personnel file.

Case Study 3: The Bogus Customer Complaints

Michael, a customer service representative at a telecommunications company, learns that his personnel file includes baseless customer complaints that accuse him of rude behavior and incompetence. These false accusations have led to Michael’s termination and difficulties in securing new employment. He seeks legal representation to challenge the defamatory statements and seek compensation for the harm caused to his professional reputation.

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Jeffrey Johnson

Insurance Lawyer

Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

Insurance Lawyer

Mary Martin

Published Legal Expert

Mary Martin has been a legal writer and editor for over 20 years, responsible for ensuring that content is straightforward, correct, and helpful for the consumer. In addition, she worked on writing monthly newsletter columns for media, lawyers, and consumers. Ms. Martin also has experience with internal staff and HR operations. Mary was employed for almost 30 years by the nationwide legal publi...

Published Legal Expert

Editorial Guidelines: We are a free online resource for anyone interested in learning more about legal topics and insurance. Our goal is to be an objective, third-party resource for everything legal and insurance related. We update our site regularly, and all content is reviewed by experts.

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