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Can I Sue a Former Employer for Defamation When They Give a Bad Reference?

Can I Sue a Former Employer for Defamation When They Give a Bad Reference

A past employer may harm your career and ruin the chances you have of getting a certain job by saying something untrue about you. The Atlanta employment law attorneys at Hall & Lampros help employees take action when employers break the law.

You may be able to file a defamation lawsuit. To win, you would need to prove that the employer knew that the statement they made was false. While it is a high bar to meet, there are times when you can get justice and accountability.

Call the employment law attorneys at Hall & Lampros when your employer has violated your legal rights. We can review your employment law case and help you figure out whether you can sue.

Some Past Employers May Harm You Out of Spite

When you find out that a prospective employer is checking your references, you may get excited because it means that you are very much in the running for the job. Then, you may be shocked to learn that you did not get the job. In many cases, the employer has checked the references of multiple candidates. In rare instances, your past employers or references may have spoken ill of you, whether it is for retribution or other reasons. When that happens, there is a chance that you may be able to file a defamation lawsuit against your employer. 

When you apply for a job, you are often asked to give information about the past places that you work. Your prospective employer may reach out to your references, or your past employers, to ask about you. Usually, your past employer or references would say positive things or nothing at all. Sometimes, they may cross a line and defame you. Call an employment law lawyer when that happens. 

How to Win a Defamation Lawsuit

In order to win a defamation case, you would need to prove the following elements:

  • The former employer made an untrue statement about you
  • The statement was “published,” meaning it was made to someone else
  • They knew (or had reason to know) that what they were saying was false
  • You suffered harm as a result of the statement

There are numerous challenges that you would face when filing a defamation lawsuit against your former employer. First, there may be some element of truth to what your employer has said, and a statement must be false to be defamatory. Second, the employer may not be liable unless you can prove that they knew what they were saying was false. Your former employer may argue that they had a good faith belief that what they were saying was true. Your employment law lawyer would work to help you overcome these defenses when there is merit to your case. 

Most former employers will only confirm that the employer worked there and the dates of their employment. They find that to be the safest course of action, given the potential liability. However, some may be less guarded and discuss details of your employment. The employer must be very careful to stick solely to true facts because they could be sued for defamation.

You Would Need to Overcome a Past Employer’s Defamation Defenses

You would face some challenges in filing a defamation lawsuit. The first is that the employer can defend themselves by arguing that what they said was true. It is not per se illegal to say unfavorable things about someone else, so long as they are correct. Once someone ventures into the realm of saying something false, they may be liable for defamation.

The second thing is that you would have to show that the bad reference was the reason that you did not get the job. There may have been another candidate who was more qualified than you, regardless of the bad reference. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact reason why you did not get a job, and the prospective employer will rarely tell you. Rarely would you ever find out that you even received a bad reference. 

Damages in a Defamation Lawsuit

If you are able to win your defamation lawsuit, you may qualify for the following in damages:

  • Wages that you could have earned in your future job
  • Monetary losses from the damage to your career
  • Emotional distress
  • Punitive damages if the employer’s wrongful actions were egregious and merit punishment

Call an Atlanta Employment Law Attorney Today

Contact the Atlanta employment law attorneys at Hall & Lampros to discuss your case if you believe that a previous employer committed defamation at your expense. Call us today at 404-876-8100 to schedule a free consultation with one of our employment law attorneys. We help employees who feel powerless and victimized and know that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law.

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