A person’s reputation is often their most important asset. Without a good reputation, a person could struggle to find employment or grow their business. They might lose key business contacts or lose out on opportunities to serve on a board of directors.
In New Jersey, many employees are damaged when their employers make factually inaccurate statements about them. Misstatements can arise in many situations, such as when giving a reference for a current or former employee. In some situations, a coworker could defame you by posting false information on public forums, like social media.
Below, our New Jersey employment law attorney reviews the law of defamation of character in our state.
A person commits defamation when they deliberately or negligently make a false and disparaging statement about a person to a third party. Negligence means a failure to use adequate care, so someone who makes an untrue statement because they did not do sufficient research could also have committed defamation.
In most cases, a victim must also show how the defamation injured them materially, i.e., cost them money. Loss could consist of cancelled business contracts, getting fired, failure to secure an expected promotion, etc.
In some cases, no financial loss is required because the defamation is so harmful that it is considered defamation per se. Examples include falsely accusing a person of criminal conduct or promiscuity.
Examples of Defamation
Here are some common examples of defamation:
- While providing a reference, a former employer lies and claims to have fired the worker for theft. The worker does not get the new job.
- A business owner lies and tells the media that a vendor supplied substandard material, which causes the vendor to lose business.
- On Facebook, a man falsely accuses his coworker of sexually assaulting him.
- While providing a reference, an employer fails to properly check how much the employee made at the company and provides inaccurate information. This inaccurate information causes the employee to not get the new job.
A victim must be sufficiently identified by the disparaging statement. For example, a generic statement like, “Someone at my business assaulted me” is not defamatory, since it does not disparage a particular person. However, in some cases, the person’s identity can be implied by context.
Rules Regarding Public Figures
Generally, it is enough that the statement was made negligently. However, in some cases, injured victims must show that the disparaging comments were made with actual malice, which typically means that the speaker knew the statement was false or was reckless regarding the truth.
Actual malice is required when statements are made about public figures, such as police officers, mayors, tax assessors, or other government officials. If a private citizen inserts herself into a public controversy, she could also be considered a limited purpose public figure.
Statute of Limitations
Per N.J.S.A. 2A:14-3, an injured victim has only 1 year from the date of the defamatory statement to file a lawsuit for compensation.
Contact a New Jersey Employment Lawyer
Defamation of character cases are difficult to win in New Jersey. The victim must prove the statement was false, and defendants can raise many defenses. Meet with a New Jersey employer defamation of character lawyer on our team to discuss your case today.