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New York:Employee Defamation in New York

In New York, you’re defamed when someone makes a false statement that exposes you to public contempt, ridicule or disgrace or leads others to think badly of you.

Most people know about the two kinds of defamation: libel and slander.  Libel is written and slander is spoken.  In either case, the statements must be false and tend to injure your reputation.  If someone calls you a murderer in a crowded restaurant (when you haven’t killed someone), you’ve been slandered.  If some posts filers saying the same thing, you’ve ben libeled.  To have a claim, someone must actually hear or read the false statement.

Defamation in the employment context is slightly different.  The statements must still be false and cause you harm, but you must also prove that your employer wasn’t authorized to make the statement (called a “privilege”).  That is, an employer can make all kinds of statements about your work performance, so long as it’s an honest opinion or done for a business reason.  In general, you cannot sue your employer for saying you’re a bad employee during a performance evaluation or writing it on your employee review.  Your employer is entitled to make those kinds of statements.  You would have to demonstrate that your employer was actually trying to hurt your repudiation for you to prove that those statements were defamatory.

The same wouldn’t be true if your employer called you a criminal (when you’re not) or has a deadly contagious disease (when you don’t).  Those types of comments are thought to be so harmful that they’re always thought to be defamatory.  Also, as you might imagine, an employer has no real business reason for making that type of statement.

Conversely, some kinds of employer statement can never be the basis for a defamation law suit.  You cannot sue your employer for statements made during Division of Human Rights proceedings, statements made on unemployment applications, and statements produced in response to a subpoena.

If you convince a judge or jury that your employer defamed you, you can recover compensation for actual injuries arising from the defamatory statement (like lost wages) and punitive damages (which are designed to punish the employer).

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