What is defamation of character?


Additional Information:

I am an executive with a small local bank. One of the associates claimed I was drunk at a recent branch visit.   My peers and direct reports all heard this false accusation.  Futhermore, I feel my reputation is being tarnished in our small community, Wellesley.  To document my adamant denial, I sent an email to my boss to state that I don’t drink and certainly wasn’t drunk at said branch visit.   He replied that HR is going to “investigate the matter.”  I’d like the associate to be disciplined for trying to damage my reputation.   What are my rights?

ATTORNEY ANSWER:

This is a difficult problem for you to deal with. While it may be true that the associate is damaging your reputation by false accusations, forcing your employer to discipline him/her is probably not plausible. Taking legal action is impractical.

Under Massachusetts law, there is no requirement that employers treat their employees fairly, reasonably, or in any other particular fashion. Laws regulate the payment of wages, the prevention of discrimination, and other discrete areas of the working relationship. They do not require employers to treat their workers well. Instead, the employment relationship is governed by what’s called the at-will rule. It provides, in sum, that work is effectively a day-to-day endeavor. Either employer or employee is free to end the relationship at any time, for any reason, with or without notice. The effect of this rule is to permit a broad range of conduct in the workplace, subject to the parties’ individual decisions how to react to it. As a worker, then, you cannot force your company to react in any particular way to this associate. You have no “right,” at least, to do so.

The fact that your employer is investigating the drinking allegation is encouraging. It makes sense for you to stay in contact with the human resources department and nudge it along as needed to complete the investigation. Once HR determines the drunkeness claim was false, you can hopefully work out a way to respond. If the company is willing to discipline the associate, great. If not, look for an alternative that will allow you to move on quickly and without lingering effects from this incident.

Wellesley Employment Lawyer, Jack Merrill, provides legal representation to employees, employers and businesses throughout the Boston metro west and Worcester County region including Ashland, Dedham, Framingham, Franklin, Hopkinton, Maynard, Marlborough, Milford, Natick, Needham, Newton, Shrewsbury, Southborough, Sudbury, Waltham, and Worcester, Massachusetts.