You know how your Mom told you not to say anything at all if you couldn’t say something nice? She was probably smarter than you realized.
Virginia recognizes two types of actionable defamation: defamation per se and defamation with proof of special damages. At common law, defamatory words are actionable per se if: (1) they impute to a person the commission of some criminal offense involving moral turpitude; (2) they impute to a person infection of some contagious disease; (3) they impute to a person unfitness to perform a job; and (4) they prejudice a person in his profession or trade.
For the alleged statements be defamatory in general terms, the inquiry is whether any such statement creates a substantial danger to one’s reputation or character.
What kinds of statements may be considered defamatory about an old employer?
· “Don’t hire them, they are going under.”
· “Don’t work with that company, they are all jerks and will steal your money.”
· “ABC Company has filed for bankruptcy and can’t pay their vendors, hire me instead!”
Although defamation is hard to prove, these comments often motivate companies to file suit against old employees.
ADVICE: keep these comments to yourself. Don’t email, write or say ANYTHING negative about your old company. Take the high road, it rarely leads to litigation.