Workplace slander goes beyond gossip and hurt feelings, and refers to false comments or statements made about you that damage (or can potentially damage) your reputation. Depending on where you live - and whether you can prove it - you may be protected by law, but it’s always better to try to fix things yourself or talk to your boss and the Human Resources department before you make such a big step. Unless you can prove that it happened and that the slander is becoming a liability for the company because it’s affecting your happiness and productivity, legal action can be both expensive and it can damage your good name even more if it falls through.
Slander, as opposed to defamation, is tricky to prove, because it has to do with an oral statement rather than a written one; if you don’t have some kind of proof or witnesses willing to speak on your behalf, then it can be next to impossible to successfully take action against the person you believe has slandered you.
If you truly believe you have been slandered, then follow these steps on dealing with it in a mature way that doesn’t end up causing even more problems. First and foremost, make sure that you know the difference between slander and gossip that’s getting out of hand - if that gossip wasn’t badly intentioned and there’s no risk of it going further, then getting involved and filing a complaint will only cause bigger problems that could have been prevented if you had simply asked the person to stop.
1. Prevention is Better Than Cure
The employer who announces that they want complete silence and for no one to ever interact is one that might effectively put a stop to malicious gossip, but he’s also an employer who won’t have many employees for very long. Talking - and gossip - is a natural part of the work day, and there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that: no one ever got into trouble or caused trouble by talking about the weather, problems arise when people take each other’s innocent acts out of context and turn them into something they aren’t. It’s up to both employer and employee to help prevent gossip turning into slander:
What an employer can do is pay attention to what gossip is circulating, and who it’s coming from, especially if they have any employees with a history for stirring up trouble. A "don’t gossip" rule won’t be of any use, but warnings that "rumour-spreaders and slanderers will be punished and potentially fired" will get people to sit up and take notice. They should make sure their employees feel they can easily come to them with their problems; the better the lines of communication, the less the chances that a victim of slander will feel they have no one to talk to and the less likely it is that they’ll resort to more drastic measures.
Employees should do what they can to avoid negative gossip; never be the one to start it, and if people start talking about things you don’t like, then leave before gossip becomes "fact" or you hear something you don’t want to hear. Avoid spending alone time with coworkers who like to gossip, and if that means that you have to eat lunch at your desk so be it. You can ask your boss for more work if that will help keep you busier and if he or she asks why you want to be busier, then let them know without naming any names.
2. First Steps to Take
The steps you’ll take will depend on the seriousness of what’s being said about you and how far and fast it’s spreading. It’s wise to try tackling the issue yourself. You don’t want to involve management or the HR department before you have to or before you have evidence to prove what you’re claiming. Evidence will help them to help you, and if you can stop the situation before it gets out of hand then you’ve saved them from having to waste time on a simple problem. Here are the three things you should do before taking it to a superior:
- If it’s less serious, or limited to a small group and it doesn’t have too much of an adverse effect on your happiness or productivity, then consider simply avoiding the person or persons in question. If you have a history of problems with this person and you know they’re just trying to hurt your feelings, then this can be a good way to get them to stop; your parents probably already taught you that ignoring a bully is the best way to stop them.
- If there is no history with this person, then open up communication with them by privately letting them know how you feel about their comments. In the best case scenario you’ll find that the coworker or coworkers in question never intended to hurt you and will apologize; you have a much better chance of getting along with this person in the future if you keep it friendly rather than if you try to drag them to court. Consider asking your employer to act as a mediator to help you through your issues.
- Gather evidence before you take it further. If you don’t expect talking to the slanderer to make any difference, then write them a letter instead so you can then take your letter and their response to the HR department. As slander is oral, find witnesses who heard what was said and who are willing to back up your claims.
3. Get the HR Department or Management Involved
If talking to the slanderer and writing to them hasn’t made any difference and you’re still concerned that they’re going to continue spreading rumours and cause trouble for you in the future, then it’s time to find out what you can do to take it further. You should first consult your contract or employee handbook to see what they say about slander, gossip or issues with other coworkers: the bigger your company, the more likely that there will be formal channels you’re expected to go through.
Start with your boss, and present your case calmly, explaining your issues and concerns. If you can tell them that you’ve made efforts to fix the issue, they will appreciate your initiative and that you haven’t bothered them with the matter before doing everything in your power. If you have written evidence or names of people who are willing to be your witnesses it’s even better. Even if it doesn’t go to HR, or you talk to HR but there isn’t enough evidence to bring legal action against the slanderer, these conversations may prompt monitoring of the employee in question and prevent any similar situation from happening in the future.
See Also: Welcome to Office Politics...
As with most adverse situations at work, the best idea is to stay calm and never react while you’re still emotional. It’s also better to try and deal with the situation yourself first and go through the proper channels rather than immediately running to your boss to complain and risk seeming like a child who needs to go running to their parents. Ignoring the situation may not be the best move if it will potentially have long-term effects on your career, but you also don’t want to become known as someone who gets coworkers into trouble, as good character is just as important as good reputation.
Has anyone ever slandered you in the workplace? How did you deal with it? Let us know in the comments section below.