The workplace may be full of gossip and chatter, however, some types of statements about an individual may give rise to a legal cause of action. What statements may be unlawful in Texas and how are they dealt with? Let’s see.
Article by the Workplace Defamation Attorneys.
What is Defamation?
In order to discuss how defamation is treated in Texas, one must first understand what defamation is. Defamation is the act of making untruthful statements about an individual. According to Texas law and case precedent, the elements for a defamation cause of action are:
The defendant published a statement;
The statement was defamatory concerning the plaintiff; and
The defendant acted with:
(i) actual malice, if the plaintiff was
a public official or public figure; or
(ii) negligence, if the plaintiff was a
private individual, regarding the truth
of the statement
In order for a statement to be considered defamation, the statement must be false, made with actual malice, and be able to prove damages occurred. Actual malice means that the statement was made knowingly and deliberately with cruelty, anger, or other intentions that indicate that the employer wished to hurt the employee. Meeting the standard to prove malice is extremely difficult to meet, therefore, many claims fail due to not being able to prove actual malice.
Slander and Libel
It is important to note that defamation occurs in the following two forms:
- Libel – Defamation by a written statement
- Slander – Defamation by an oral statement
Defamation in the Texas Workplace
When defamation occurs in a place of employment, there are additional standards to be met. In the workplace, the statement made to defame an individual must be made in and during the scope of the speaker’s scope of business. In other words, the statement must be concerning the speaker’s job or the scope of the employment.
If the statement was within the scope of employment, the defamed individual may be able to file a cause of action against the individual who made the statement as well as the employer. If the statement was not made within the scope of employment, than the defamed individual may only be able to bring a cause of action against the individual who made the statement.
Remedies for Defamation in the Texas Workplace
There are two types of relief for defamation in Texas: 1. Injunctive relief; and 2. Monetary Relief. It is more likely to obtain monetary relief when the actual employer has made the defaming statements or the statements were made with malice and in the scope of employment; this is so because it more likely that an employer would be able to pay a monetary judgment. However, if the employer is not found liable for the statements made by employees, then it is unlikely that the employee will be able to pay a monetary judgment.
Obtaining injunctive relief or a court order to cease making defamatory statements, might be a more realistic remedy when bringing a cause of action against one who may not have financial assets. If the court issues the injunction to an employee and that employee violates the injunction, then the court could then impose monetary fines, and in some instances jail time.