Defamation is the umbrella term used for libel and slander – the publication or vocalisation of information, opinions or thoughts that can be damaging to the reputation of an individual or business. If something offensive is spoken, then it’s described as slander. If it’s written down, broadcast, or shown in a film, it’s described as libel. For a comment to be considered defamatory, it must be communicated to somebody else, even if that’s just one person.
Defamation in the workplace
Though high-profile libel cases can make great news stories, defamation isn’t just a celebrity issue. A minor lapse in judgement can land you in hot water if somebody takes offence at your words or actions – something as slight as an employee sharing a joke about a client via email or re-tweeting a piece of gossip.
As a business owner, you not only have your reputation to protect, but also your financial situation and this is where professional indemnity insurance is important. Defamation claims can be costly to investigate. A lawyer will need to look at the context in which the comments were made and establish your intent. Even if you’re found not to have fallen foul of the law, there could still be a hefty cost involved to prove it.
If your professional indemnity insurance provides cover for defamation, then these costs will be met by your insurance company. They will also meet the costs of any damage pay-out too.
Preventing defamation claims
To prevent finding yourself in this situation, here are some tips on how to protect your business when it comes to communication and avoiding the risk of defamation:
- Avoid saying anything in an email or on social media that you wouldn’t want to see repeated on the front of a national newspaper or website.
- It sounds obvious, but don’t make anything up about your clients or anyone else.
- Even if you know that something is true, don’t say it if it’s likely to cause offence.
- If you’re creating content, always check the facts.
- Don’t just assume that because something has been written somewhere, it’s true.
- Be careful about repeating allegations that you’ve heard or read. Even if you re-tweet a potentially defamatory Tweet, you risk being sued.
- Have a clear social media policy in place and make sure all staff have been trained.
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