Defamation happens when an intentionally false communication injuries another’s reputation or good name. The two main forms are libel and slander. Libel is defamation expressed in print, writing, pictures, or signs. Slander is defamation expressed orally or by gestures.

Libel or slander may exist where the following take place:

  • False and defamatory statements were communicated to a third person, orally or in writing.
  • The third person understood the meaning of the statement.
  • That statement injured the person’s reputation.

Difficult situations can arise when an employee is terminated and there is a need to communicate the reasons for the termination. This could be the case with high-profile employees, such as a pastor or school principal. While the law generally provides some level of protection or privilege for communications to those who “need to know,” the potential for error or abuse is often present.

For example, a pastor’s termination is announced at a church service, during which false and unkind things are said about him. The announcement is recorded and posted online. A prospective employer, who views the announcement, chooses not to hire the pastor. 

Defamation also can occur if an employer writes false or misleading statements in a letter of reference, harming a former employer’s ability to get another job. The same holds true for stating that an employee lacks the skills needed for the profession or suggesting that he or she committed a crime.

Note: Definitions for libel and slander may differ in each state. Check with a local attorney to see how these apply to you.