Many employees believe they have been defamed by their employers when they get bad references, or when other employees are told about the “hideous” deeds some of our clients were accused of engaging in, and for which they were fired. Violations of trade secrets, taking employees with them to new jobs, even sabotage of company equipment are some of the “lies” told by management.
A little-known fact is that England is the libel capital of the world, and there was, until recently, something called “libel tourism”. If even a few products were sold by Internet in England, “victims” of slander could sue. Now the law has stopped that The media attention on the toughening up of laws in England regarding under what conditions a suit can be brought (say by an employee of a multinational corporation), reminds us about a very unusual British quirk: In England, the burden of proof is on the defendant to prove that the statement they are accused of making is in fact true. In the US, the burden is always on the plaintiff (the person claiming libel) to prove by a preponderance of evidence that the statement was false.
In California, every libel plaintiff has to prove some element of damages, such as to reputation, loss of job, loss of future employment opportunity, emotional distress, or the like. This was not the case until the reformation of English libel law; now, plaintiffs must show serious harm to their reputations (or likely to cause serious harm). Under the newly-enacted public interest defense, good faith publication in what the defendant would call “the public interest”, is a defense, whether or not the statement was actually true.
In future blogs, we’ll examine in more detail the intersection in California employment law between libel (written falsehoods), slander (spoken) and publication. Yet another cause of action in California is public disclosure of private facts. Until recently, the court did not recognize this cause of action if the disclosure was only oral. A recent case changed that, when a supervisor announced to the assembled staff of the plaintiff that the plaintiff was suffering from “bi polar”. Stay tuned for a more in-depth analysis of this entire area of law.
This blog is meant to be educational in nature as legal advise can only be given by an attorney licensed in your state and familiar with your facts. We represent employees only through our ten offices in California. Steve