Rumors in the Workplace & Defamation of Character

Workplace rumors can be damaging to a person's character, but are not necessarily defamation

Workplace rumors can be damaging to a person's character, but are not necessarily defamation of character.

Rumors can be a terribly damaging form of communication. Rumors spread throughout the workplace are no exception, damaging an employee’s reputation and character and potentially affecting productivity. The spreading of rumors is often identified as defamation of character, although the two are not synonymous. Rumors in the workplace can lead to an unhealthy work environment and defamation of character, so it is critical to make sure neither occurs.


Workplace Rumors

Rumors in the workplace can lead to hurt feelings and may mean employees have to work in a hostile environment. Whether a rumor is true or not, the outcome of spreading it can be damaging. Employers have a responsibility to try to control the spread of workplace rumors to ensure that the work environment is a positive place for all employees. This may seem to be a daunting task, but understanding the origins of rumors and why people start them in the first place can help employers control their spread. Rumors are often spread due to a lack of communication in the office environment, ignorance and unhealthy competition between employees. While rumors can be hurtful and counterproductive, spreading a rumor is not necessarily defamation of character.


Defamation of Character

Defamation of character is defined as a false or derogatory statement about another person, or the unprivileged publication of the statement to another individual. For defamation of character to occur, the information that is communicated must be false. If the information is true, a reputation may be damaged, but the person does not legally have a claim against the person who stated the information, unless the disclosure presents a person in a false light, which is considered defamation of character.

In addition to the spread of false information, the person guilty of defamation of character must have intended to cause harm to the subject of the information through the spread of the rumor. Defamation of character is punishable by the law, but it can be difficult to prove the intent of the person who spread the information.


Avoiding Rumors and Defamation of Character

To avoid rumors and defamation of character in the workplace, effective communication strategies must be implemented. Employers should make an effort to strongly discourage workplace rumors by sending a clear message that spreading them is not acceptable. Including guidelines in the employee handbook about the spread of rumors can help deter employees from spreading them. Any activity that disrupts the workplace, affects productivity or disparages others or harms another's reputation should be strictly prohibited. Other solutions are distributing memos, assigning more work to do and conducting surveys designed to ask why people are gossiping in the first place.




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