Slander in the workplace involves an intentional and malicious verbal attempt or action that is designed to hurt a targeted person with a statement or series of comments. The act is usually done with purpose and is often performed when the victim is not present to defend herself. An example could be one employee passing around a story that a competitor worker gets into personal relationships with supervisors to win favor, thereby damaging that competitor’s reputation in an upcoming promotion process. When slander is bad enough, a person can feel like the only way to avoid the pressure, stress and hurt is to leave the job altogether, separating from the environment where it’s occurring.
Employers are responsible for making sure that workers treat each other professionally. This includes making sure that employees are not going around to find ways to lie, make false statements or mentally harming each other. Where a company becomes aware of a potential problem with slander, it’s required by most state laws to at least investigate the matter. If there’s a probability apparent on the evidence that the action did occur, the company needs to act proactively and put a stop to it. Not doing any of the above can put the employer at big risk of being sued and losing because it knew about the problem and didn’t act on it.
The problem with slander in the workplace is that it is extremely hard to prove. Unlike a written statement, slander is often verbal in nature. To prove the case, a victim has to find enough believable witnesses who are willing to speak or testify against the perpetrator. Then a case can be made. Unfortunately, while people are quick to take sides, few are willing to put their name into an investigation if they will be put under question on the matter. Many shy away “not wanting to get involved.”
In some instances, an employer will try mediation between the victim and the alleged perpetrator, hoping that by allowing the victim to confront the perpetrator in a controlled environment might stop the matter cold. Sometimes it works, but often the situation is too toxic and seems procedural for many.
Whether there seems to be enough proof or not, if an employee feels he’s a victim of slander in the workplace, he needs to file a concern with his supervisor or the human resource office. Granted, both will need to check out the facts and see whether there really is a case that can be acted on. However, simply filing the concern helps cause the process to start. Even if the case does not yet manifest to an actionable response because the evidence isn’t strong enough under a review, it can trigger monitoring of the alleged perpetrator. That in turn can potentially dampen future slander.
Ideally, an employer is actively reminding managers to look for signs of slander and squash the behavior before it gets out of hand. However, employees can’t always depend on things to work out on their own. Slander often takes root because of others’ perception of a person. So to dampen the effects of slander, people can often proactively defend themselves by making sure their perception in others’ eyes is already good and based on the interaction and fact. It’s the reason why people who are popular seem so successful and untouched by opinion or gossip. The perception of that kind of person works like a defense before slander can take root in a group.
Not everyone can be Mr. Or Ms. Popular, but networking and interacting on a regular basis in an ethical way often sticks in people’s minds. When they then hear slander in the workplace about a given person, it’s hard to believe. This doesn’t always work as a defense, but it can be effective.
Slander is a real, painful act that occurs in the workplace at times. When it does happen and a person feels attacked, they should raise a concern to their supervisor or the human resources office. Slander can also sometimes be fended of proactively, but perception is not a guaranteed defense. At some point a perpetrator should be confronted, otherwise the slander will continue on someone else next.