Defamation is the legal concept of loweringan individual’s reputation in the eyes of a reasonable person
Damage of Reputation
Libel refers to printed statements, whereas slander covers spoken statements that damage one’s reputation. All parties should remember that truth is a defence to defamation. If an employer makes an intentional misstatement or a reckless misstatement, the former employee can sue for loss of reputation. For an employee to obtain an award of damages for defamation, they must show that the words in question actually referred to them specifically and that the words were “published”, meaning they were communicated to at least one other person. An employer has several possible defences to a defamation claim by an employee. The first is truth – if the statement is true, there can be no defamation. The employer can also claim that the statement was covered by qualified privilege, meaning the employer had a legitimate reason for making the statement and shared it only with those who had a legitimate reason for receiving it. In such a case, the statement will be protected, even if false, if it was made without malice.
If the former employer gives a negligent reference or makes a negligent misstatement which causes the employee to incur damages, the employee can sue in a separate action for negligent misstatement. Note that former employers are allowed to give honest references, even if they are less than glowing, so long as they are telling the truth. However, employers should always be careful of what they say to third parties with respect to the work performance and dismissal of former employees. Please see Spring v Guardian Assurance (1994), 16 C.C.E.L. (2d) 147 (H.L.); Young v Bella (2006), 261 DLR (4th) 416 (S.C.C.) and Litster v. British Columbia Ferry Corp. (2003), 24 C.C.E.L. (3d) 95 (B.C.S.C.). Please note that the above information does not constitute legal advice. It is general information about the law. If you require legal advice with an employment issue, please contact the experts at Ball Professional Corporation.
Canadian Employment Law
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