In Florida, defamation is a serious offense, and victims can pursue lawsuits against the parties at fault.
While defamation can occur almost anywhere, workplace slander is one of the most common violations. Whenever your employer says or publishes false statements about you and you suffer damages, you can file a legal complaint to hold them accountable.
Although defaming an individual is relatively easy, proving a claim that relies primarily on word-of-mouth statements can be challenging. However, if your employer knowingly made false statements about you, a seasoned attorney can gather the evidence you need to prove negligence and fight on your behalf.
Whether your boss characterized you maliciously to colleagues or sent out a defaming email about you, an attorney can help protect your rights under Florida laws.
Slander and Suing Your Former Employer
Defamation is a broad category of behaviors that occur when someone intentionally makes false or misleading statements about another person with the intent to cause harm.
When these false statements are made orally, it’s known as slander, and if they are published or written, it’s known as libel. In either case, spreading false information to cause harm is illegal in Florida, and the consequences can devastate both parties.
Slander can substantially damage a person’s reputation, future earnings, and emotional well-being, resulting in severe financial sanctions for those at fault.
In the workplace, defamation claims are most common between employers and employees. There are many situations when an employer’s comments can negatively affect a current or past employee.
Can you sue a former employer for slander? The answer largely relies on the facts and evidence. Some of the most common examples of workplace-related defamation include the following:
- Providing a negative job reference maliciously
- Making false statements to others at work
- Posting harmful messages on social media
- Bullying or spreading rumors
- Sharing damaging photos, videos, and other media
Unfortunately, Florida defamation claims can sometimes be challenging to prove because, in many cases, slander stems from conversations rather than physical evidence.
Additionally, establishing a valid defamation claim under Florida statutes requires specific legal elements to be met, and plaintiffs can employ many defense strategies to absolve themselves of responsibility. Due to the many moving parts of establishing a defamation lawsuit, these cases are not as simple as you’d think.
You’ll need to consult a seasoned employment attorney to sue your employer for defamation. Depending on the unique nature of your case, a defamation lawyer can obtain witness testimonies, depose individuals, gather evidence, hire third-party support, and prepare motions to litigate your case.
In Florida, it’s typical for slander and libel claims to go to trial, so an attorney will be vital in covering all the legal groundwork in preparation for facing a jury.
When Can You Sue Someone for Slander?
Like other civil claims, defamation lawsuits in Florida must be filed within a reasonable time according to the statute of limitations. In most cases, victims have two years from the first incident to file a lawsuit. Even if the malicious behavior is ongoing, the courts use the first instance of slander to “start the clock” on a defamation case.
As with any civil claim, when it comes to defamation, Florida law requires that various elements are met. But how do you sue someone for slander? Generally, the process will depend on the specific circumstances and related variables, but proving the case with sufficient evidence will be vital.
5 Key Elements to Prove in a Defamation Claim
You’ll need to rely on evidence to support your claim when it comes to demonstrating slander to a court. The five most essential elements in a slander lawsuit include the following:
Although the first amendment guarantees everyone free speech, there’s a critical difference between someone voicing their opinion about you versus someone making a misleading statement. Consequently, the threshold of legal falsehood is vital in pursuing a defamation lawsuit.
Although any employer is free to express their opinion regarding employees, damages can occur when these comments are factually wrong or of a questionable moral nature. Words are powerful, and the consequences can be long-lasting when someone’s reputation is damaged due to misinformation.
Statements of fact should be verifiable. When you can prove that your employer expressed a statement of fact under false pretenses, this will be necessary to litigate a defamation case.
2. Publication or Expression
For defamation claims, it’s critical to establish that the plaintiff communicated (or published) their harmful statements to a third party.
In other words, you’ll need to demonstrate to the court that the employer made defamatory statements to other people. Employers can often make slanderous comments to other subordinates, work teams, and even the entire staff.
3. Determining Fault
Defamation lawsuits rely on establishing an at-fault party, as with other civil matters, such as slips and falls or personal injuries.
Not only do you have to provide evidence that an employer made a false statement, but you also have to establish that an employer expressed the statement inappropriately.
Under Florida defamation statutes, the standards for determining fault rely on who was defamed. In most cases, a distinction exists between private figures, such as ordinary Florida residents, and public figures, such as government officials or political leaders.
Most defamation cases will deal with private figures. In these situations, you can establish fault by showing any of the following behaviors:
- Gross misconduct
- Malicious intent
One common strategy to illustrate defamation is when someone fails to engage in reasonable care, such as fact-checking.
4. Unprivileged Statements
Many defamation claims in Florida must also weigh the rights of the defamer to express their false statements. In other words, it’s important to distinguish if a defamatory comment is privileged or unprivileged.
In employment law, employers are generally free to share basic information about employees with parties with legitimate interests or concerns. In legal terms, this type of information is considered a “qualified privilege” and is allowed under the law.
However, under Florida law, statements expressed by employers must be in good faith.
The following elements are often used to prove that your employer’s statements were conducted in bad faith. You must show that the statements:
- Were knowingly false
- Were deliberately misleading
- Violated civil rights
- Were rendered maliciously
Every case is different, but a defamation attorney can look into the details to determine the best course of action.
Lastly, another critical element in developing a solid case in your favor is proving that harm resulted from the defamation in question. If you file a lawsuit, you’re likely doing so because you suffered damaging consequences.
Some common examples of damages associated with defamation include:
- Lost income and earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Public humiliation
- Financial losses from lost customers and business
- Out-of-pocket expenses
Illustrating how you suffered harm will be critical as your case moves forward in court.
How Do You Sue Someone for Slander?
As with any Florida civil lawsuit, your first step to sue for slander and defamation should be to consult an attorney.
An attorney will need time to review all the facts to determine whether they can proceed with a lawsuit. When an attorney decides to proceed with a defamation claim, they’ll file the complaint and serve the offending parties with the corresponding documents.
Many slander lawsuits are settled without even stepping into court. This usually occurs when a financial settlement is reached. In many cases, your attorney will negotiate with the offending party. However, you’re not required to accept offers to settle the lawsuit. You can always proceed directly to trial.
Ongoing litigation may require extensive discovery review. Even if your case isn’t very complex, your attorney will still need to obtain as much evidence as possible to reinforce your defamation claim, including:
- Witness interviews
- Social media posts
- Photos and videos
- Expert testimony
- Consultations with third parties and experts
An attorney may spend months building a solid case in your favor to ensure they can meet the burden of proof. Additionally, this may require substantial motion practice. Defamation claims can be contentious, and opposing counsel will look for ways to fight the claims to get the case thrown out.
Ideally, your attorney will work alongside the courts to set a trial, where the attorney will present all the facts to a judge and jury. Although there’s no set timeline for a defamation claim, these lawsuits can take a few months to over a year to resolve.
Civil lawsuits in Florida vary, but an attorney will undoubtedly be the best resource in streamlining the process and will protect your rights at all stages.
How Much Can You Sue for Slander?
When it comes to financial awards in a slander claim, the results vary from claim to claim. While there’s never a definitive number, monetary awards rely on the nature and seriousness of the defamation itself.
Florida courts will weigh any number of factors to determine how much money, if any, should be awarded after a verdict is reached. Generally, the more damage caused by the slander, the higher the amount.
If you suffered nominal damages, the amount would be lower than if the defamation caused a significant interruption in your life. Additionally, courts have the discretion to award two types of damages:
- Compensatory damage
- Punitive damage
Any defamation lawsuit will look to recover your losses, such as expenses, lost wages, and non-economic damages. But in some instances, courts may also “punish” the offending party by requesting additional financial restitution.
Hiring an Employment Law Attorney for a Slander Case
If you’ve suffered defamation on behalf of a former employer, you have every right to pursue legal action and hold them accountable for their malicious actions.
Because slander cases involve so many moving parts, the best way to protect yourself is by hiring an employment law attorney specializing in defamation cases. Experienced legal representation can give you the peace of mind you need as you navigate these difficult times.
Additionally, employment lawyers can help answer difficult questions, such as: When can you sue for slander? How much can you sue for slander? Can I sue a coworker for slander?
A defamation lawyer can prepare your complaint and engage in settlement negotiations on your behalf. When it comes to litigation, an attorney will present evidence to illustrate your damages and seek favorable results.
The attorneys at Wenzel Fenton, P.A. specialize in employment law violation cases throughout Florida. Whether you live in Miami, Tampa, Orlando, or anywhere in between, our team is dedicated to upholding your rights.
No employer should ever engage in hostility against an employee. If this happens to you, our attorneys will do everything they can to recover your losses. Contact us today for a free comprehensive case review.