Can you sue your boss or a coworker for character assassination in the workplace?
Not all workplace injuries are physical.
When an accident or close call occurs at work, it can be an emotional event. The employer and employees may have strong feelings about how the accident occurred and who is to blame. Words often fly between employers, employees and coworkers. The employer or a coworker might say things about the injured party that aren’t true.
As the victim, you might be infuriated by what your employer or a coworker is saying about you. You may be wondering if and how workers’ compensation laws and defamation laws intersect. What can you do if a coworker is slandering you at work? Can you sue for defamation of character in the workplace?
Our Georgia attorneys explain how the laws apply to character assassination in the workplace, particularly following a work-related accident or occupational illness.
Suing for defamation of character at work
Suing for defamation of character at work may be possible if your claim is against your employer or a coworker, but generally such a claim is not considered part of the workers’ compensation system.
Instead, defamation plaintiffs must bring a civil defamation of character claim against the responsible party. Damages for defamation of character may include economic losses as well as damage to your reputation.
Can you get workers’ compensation for defamation of character in Georgia?
No, you cannot get workers’ compensation for defamation of character in Georgia.
Workers’ compensation in Georgia is based on a physical injury. Georgia law specifically says that workers’ compensation is an “exclusive remedy” for injuries arising from the course and scope of employment. However, under Georgia law, it must be a physical injury. As such, workers’ compensation is not the avenue for an employee to seek justice for defamation of character.
However, that doesn’t mean that the employee is left without a way to fight back against character assassination in the workplace. Because Georgia workers’ compensation law is the exclusive remedy for physical injuries only, a civil claim may still be available to the employee who is the victim of character assassination.
In civil claims, the same rules and standards that apply to civil tort cases also apply. Damages may include economic losses, non-economic damages like pain and suffering and other types of compensation.
Examples of suing for defamation of character at work
Here are some scenarios where an employee may sue for defamation of character at work:
- It is an icy day at work. An employee driving a piece of equipment skids on the ice. The vehicle crashes. The employee suffers injuries and files a workers’ compensation claim. The employer tells coworkers that the employee was under the influence at the time of the accident, even though this statement is untrue. In fact, the employee passed an alcohol and drug screen right after the accident. In this case, the defamed worker may sue their employer in civil court.
- An employee is involved in a slip and fall accident at work. They suffer severe brain damage and limited mobility. Another employee witnesses the accident and sees the victim’s injuries. However, they tell coworkers that the other injured employee is faking their injuries. The employee’s reputation is damaged.
- After suffering a knee injury at work, an employee returns for light duty. However, the employer is frustrated by the person’s medical restrictions. The employer tells coworkers that the worker is exaggerating their injuries and the value of their workers’ compensation claim. The employer knows that their statements are untrue, but they want to make the employee uncomfortable working within their restrictions.
One infamous claim in Georgia involving defamation of character in the workplace is Oliver v. Wal-Mart Stores (1993). In this case, the court ruled that a slander case does not have to be brought in a workers’ compensation claim as an exclusive remedy. The court dismissed a summary disposition order for the defense and allowed the plaintiff to proceed with the claim.
What defenses can an employer bring for defamation of character at work?
To succeed in a claim of defamation of character at work, the victim must prove that they are a victim of defamation. There are a number of defenses the employer or a coworker may assert in defense of the claim. Some of these possible defenses include:
- Privilege. An employer has the right to make statements in certain circumstances. For example, an employer may make statements in defense during a lawsuit or investigation. They also have a right to undertake lawful activity like conducting a background check or cooperating with an official investigation.
- Consent. When an employee allows the employer to make a statement, the consent may be a defense to privilege.
- Opinion. A person can state an opinion about another person. Only facts and things that are objectively false can count as defamation.
- Truth. A statement is only defamation if it is untrue. An employer may not be able to share information on the basis of privilege. However, if they are legally able to make a statement, they can defend against defamation on the grounds that the statement is true.
Responding to workers’ compensation and defamation at work
When you’re the victim of character assassination and defamation at work, you may deserve financial compensation. However, in Georgia, the claim is not through the worker’s compensation system. Workers’ compensation claims cover physical injuries only.
If an employee is injured because of untruthful statements made by employers or coworkers, they may have a claim under Georgia defamation laws. But there are time limits to file a claim, so do not hesitate to contact a Georgia defamation attorney.