How to Deal With Slander in the Workplace

If you work or have worked in an office setting, then you know that there are times when the entire office is buzzing with some kind of news. Be it that Jon has found a new job and is going to leave or that the manager you all share is rude and unprofessional. Gossip in the office isn’t always negative, but at its core it is unproductive and can really break a team down. Especially when gossip takes an evil turn and morphs in to slander. Slander in the workplace can really deter an employees work, their productivity and their happiness at work. More importantly, it can be a huge liability and issue for the company seeing as though, if pushed hard enough, the employee being slandered can take legal action. That is why gossip, and more specifically slander, must to be dealt with in the office right away.

For clarification purposes, let’s just differentiate between these two things here. By definition, gossip is “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.” Somewhat similar is slander, which is defined as “the action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation.” In its defense, gossip is usually harmless chatter that is passed from one person to another. There can be gossip that an office romance has sparked up between two employees in the department. While it may be harmless at the root, if this gossip is not addressed it can take a nasty turn. Someone in the office may dislike one of these two lovebirds and can sprout up a lie and say they saw Becky and Patrick getting busy in the janitor closet during work. Of course, this is just an example I sprouted up, so it’s more lighthearted than the possible reality.

Not only did this employee just completely lie, but the lie they sprouted could really harm the other employee’s job. If a manager catches wind of this, which is likely the goal of the employee that created the lie, then it can mean trouble for Becky and Patrick. You see how gossip can quickly morph into slander? Perhaps most important is the fact that slander is a civil act. This means that the person who is creating and spreading the lies can be sued. Unfortunately, they cannot be criminally charged. That action is saved for libel cases, which is when slanderous or false comments are put in writing or in visual material.

Since slander is oral and is not written down on paper, it can be really difficult to prove someone is making slanderous comments about you. If you take a cue from the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, they say to first write a letter to the employee that is doing the slander and ask them to stop. It’s best to get it in writing so it can be proved that you made an attempt to stop the slander. It’s also better to avoid confrontation since what this person has said is probably hurtful and can raise a lot of emotions. Approaching someone in an emotional state is not the best idea- especially in the workplace. It’s also a good idea to inform your employer what is going on. That way, they are aware of its existence and should take actions to make it stop. That is, if they are a good manager.

If you have a Human Resources department, it’s a good idea to contact them as well right from the start. That way, they know the situation and can keep tabs on what is going on. However, the best way to combat slander in the workplace is to prevent it from happening in the first place. That is why it is so important for managers and superiors to squash gossip right from the get go. Of course, it’s impossible to squash all gossip and a lot of it is really harmless, but the negative gossip is what you have to watch out for. It is too easy for negative gossip to take an evil turn, and before you know it you can have a big conflict on your hands. Not to mention a possible legal conflict.

As an employee and a coworker, it’s best not to engage in gossip at all. While it may be interesting and you may want to hear the juicy details of so and so’s whatever, it’s not pertinent to your work and it cuts back on your productivity. The best advice I can give is to say hi around the water cooler, but keep your mouth shut otherwise.

Have you experienced or witnessed slander in the workplace? What was the outcome? I want to hear about it! Sound off in the comments of tweet me @nicole_spark.

SOURCE: Small Business
IMAGE: Courtesy of Power to Change

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