Defamation, Libel and Slander North Carolina
When you leave a job and provide an employer reference, your past employers are prohibited from making defamatory statements about you. If you have been turned down for a job and you believe that you lost the opportunity because of a false negative statement from a former employer, you may be able to file a civil defamation suit. Defamation is defined as “slander” when it refers to statements made verbally. “Libel” refers to the practice of putting a defamatory statement in writing.
The law only considers a statement “defamatory” if it constitutes a false statement of fact—not a subjective opinion or value judgment. For example, if a past employer tells a prospective employer that someone had a bad attitude or a poor work ethic, this alone probably does not constitute grounds for a defamation suit. By contrast, if a past employer makes a false accusation (such as falsely stating that someone embezzled from the company), this may fall under the category of defamation.
In total, there are five conditions that must be met in order for a case to qualify as defamation:
- The employer must make a negative statement about the employee’s job history or performance.
- The statement must be factually false.
- The employer must “publish” the false statement to a third party (in speaking or in writing).
- The employer must know that the statement was false.
- The false statement must cause injury or harm. (In the case of employment related defamation, it must be proven that the false statement was the reason why you were not hired).
A specific North Carolina law protects employers from preventing or attempting to prevent, by word or writing of any kind, a discharged employee from obtaining employment elsewhere. This law imposes both criminal and civil liability on the employer.
Employees should seek counsel if they believe they have been employment due to blacklisting activities by their former employer.