Defamation of Character

Question:

If an employer has unfairly labeled an employee as a “loose cannon” without any history of such, causing an employee to receive bad review or be passed over for promotions, would this be defamation of character that could result in legal consequences?

Signed,

IF


Answer:

DearĀ IF:

I assume that you are asking about yourself and will answer with that assumption. We do not give legal advice; however, I think if you look up a dictionary definition of defamation, you will conclude that “loose cannon” does not constitute defamation. Were you defamed? Probably not. A superior can make such remarks to sum up her/his opinion of an employee’s communication style and demeanor. To be sure, such a term as “loose cannon” might be one of several terms that depicted your performance, and it could have shot your chances for promotion. But a superior’s mistaken, even malicious, judgment about you, lacking evidence, is not defamation. Employers hire and fire, promote or not promote, for good reason or no reason, just as you can quit or take or refuse a promotion for good reason or no reason.

Generally, defamation is the issuance of a false statement about another person in speech or writing to a third party that causes serious harm. That harm usually is loss of reputation and or money, and sometimes it is great mental anguish. Defamation false statements that harm one’s good standing; such as allegations of sexual disease, crime, and failure of character, criminal and unethical behavior. In your case, you can argue that it was false to characterize you as a loose cannon. You could get witnesses that say you do not “mouth off”; that you do not go off half cocked, that you carefully weigh if and what you say is backed by good judgment. You could argue that the employer’s false remark derailed your opportunity for promotion, but this is usually not a legal matter.

Just being called a loose cannon is not the whole story. Hearing this characterization of you should cause you to examine why an employer would make such a remark. Have you asked him/her what you have done or said to say that about you? Have you asked how you might come across more effectively? Rather than being defensive and seeking to attack him/her for that, might you reflect on what value you add to your company and how you present you ideas?

If and when you assume that your employer’s remark was intended to hurt you, you will seek to fight back instead of examining yourself. If you assume that the “loose cannon” remark was intended to help you come across as an employee who speaks with greater deliberation, you will strive to speak that way. And even if you think your employer has judged you wrong, you will try to understand what could have caused such a descriptor of you.

Let’s apply this advice: Assume that my answer to your question is meant to help you. Now does this not generate a positive mental attitude? Does it not prompt you to say, that guy wants me to succeed and to do what is possible to be the kind of individual that merits promotion? Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Might that be the kind of workplace that you can help create?

William Gorden