Is it defamation or harassment if I vented to facebook about a coworker without naming them at all.

I am a supervisor at a store, and have a question about workplace harassment and defamation.

I vented in a private facebook group and was wondering if I posted a conversation between myself and an employee without naming the person in any way if that is considered workplace slander, defamation or harassment.

Since then, I had deleted the post so no more commenting can go on.

1 answer  |  asked May 31, 2016 10:44 AM [EST]  |  applies to Florida

Answers (1)

Phyllis Towzey
This is not a lot of detail, but here are some overall things to consider.

First, "publishing" something on Facebook is the same as publishing it anywhere else. If you made a false and negative statement against another person to a third party (i.e. someone other than that person themselves) then you could potentially be sued by that person for defamation. For some types of defamation, the person would have to prove actual damages. Defamation "per se" - statements that are deemed to cause harm to one's reputation regardless of whether any actual monetary damage is suffered - can entitle the person to money damages without proving actual monetary loss as a result of your statements. To be liable you would not have to have named the person, if it would be clear to the recipients of the communication who the person was. Of course, truth is a defense to a claim of defamation.

Second, whether there is any risk of disciplinary action against you at work depends on two things: (A) what your company's policies are on posting on social media about coworkers and/or things that happen in the workplace; and (B) the actual content of what you posted.

Florida is an "employment at will" state, so your employer can discipline or fire you for any reason or no reason at all, so long as they don't violate one of the federal or state employment laws (for example, discrimination based on age, sex, race, religion, etc.) So, your employer can fire you for violating their social media policy (if they have one) or just fire you because they don't like what you posted.

There is one exception to that. The National Labor Relations Act prohibits your employer from firing you for engaging in "concerted activity" which means communicating with coworkers about the terms and conditions of your employment. If your post falls into that category -- and at least one other employee of the company is a fb friend of yours - then firing you would be a violation of the labor laws. This is a very limited exception, however, and would not protect you if you engaged in defamatory statements or name-callling.

Hope this helps.

posted by Phyllis Towzey  |  May 31, 2016 12:09 PM [EST]

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