If a former employee has been bad-mouthing you, you may be able to sue them for defamation of character.
Florida law allows people to share their opinions or make critical statements. But it also protects people from lies that can damage their reputations or careers.
If you believe you have a claim against a former employee for defamation, a business lawyer in Florida can help you protect your professional reputation.
“Social media makes it easier than ever for a disgruntled former employee to try to get back at his or her employer. Employers may need to react quickly to protect their reputation online.”Business Lawyer Michael Long
What Is Defamation of Character in Florida?
Defamation is when one person says something false about another person that hurts their reputation. Defamation can either be in writing (libel) or spoken (slander).
How Does the First Amendment Affect a Defamation Claim?
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects an individual’s right to speak freely. Generally, people expect to be able to say what they like without fear of government interference. This includes the right to share one’s opinion and to make critical statements that are true or that one reasonably believes to be true.
But the First Amendment right to free speech is limited when it butts up against other important rights. In the case of defamation, one person’s right to free speech interferes with another’s right to protect their good name. For this reason, defamation is not protected speech.
How Is Defamation of Character Proven in Florida?
If a former employee slanders you, it can cause serious damage to your business and reputation. To prove defamation, you must establish each of the following elements.
1. Statement Must Be False
First, you must show that the statement is false. Truth is an absolute defense to defamation. No matter how damaging a statement is, you can’t stop a person from saying something that is true.
2. Statement Must Be Defamatory
The statement also must be defamatory. In other words, it must say something negative about you.
3. Statement Must Be Communicated to a Third Party
Next, you must show that the statement was shared with a third party. If an employee came into your office and falsely accused you of doing something wrong, but did not share the accusation with anyone else, the statement is not actionable.
Similarly, if the employee wrote down something false about you but did not share it with anyone, you could not establish defamation.
4. The Person Must Have Been at Least Negligent as to Whether the Statement Was False
It is possible for someone to spread a false statement believing it to be true. Florida law will not hold someone responsible for defamation if they made an honest mistake.
However, if the person was negligent in their efforts to verify the statement’s truthfulness, then they may still be held liable for defamation.
For example, if the employee was repeating information they heard from someone they know holds a grudge against you, they may be negligent for not investigating the information further before sharing it with others.
5. The Statement Must Cause Harm
Finally, you must show that you suffered damage as a result of the defamation. Damage may be financial, such as losses to your business resulting from the defamation. They may also be emotional or social.
Examples could include suffering unusual amounts of stress following the statement or a friend cutting ties with you because they believed the false statement.
What If a Former Employee Slanders My Business?
Another option you may be able to pursue based on a former employee’s slander is a claim for business disparagement. Business disparagement or commercial disparagement occurs when someone makes defamatory statements about your business for the purpose of damaging the business.
To prove business disparagement, you have to establish that:
- The statement was false;
- The person making the statement either intended to or reasonably believed the statement would cause the business financial loss;
- The person either knew the statement was false or acted in reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of the statement; and
- The business suffered financial loss.
A business disparagement claim requires different proof than a defamation claim. An experienced business attorney can help you determine which cause of action fits your particular circumstances.
Contact a Florida Business Attorney
You do not have to stand still and suffer defamation of your character. Florida law gives you options for protecting your reputation and your business from false and disparaging comments made by former employees.
The experienced business attorneys at BrewerLong are here to help keep your business strong. Give us a call or contact us online to see how we can help you put a stop to slander by a former employee.