You decided to leave a toxic work environment for new job opportunities. There have been several interviews but no job offers. Someone brings to your attention that your former boss is badmouthing you to potential employers.
Is a bad reference grounds for a defamation lawsuit?
What defines defamation?
Defamation of character is someone stating false claims about you to others. It can come in oral (slander) or written (libel) form. In addition to proving the statements are inaccurate, you must also show injury to your reputation and malicious intent.
Florida law protects employers who provide information on current or former employees from liability unless it’s proven that the employer gave false information.
Therefore, how do you prove your former employer maliciously made false statements that harmed your reputation?
You will need to gather evidence showing that the statements were untrue and that your boss knew they were untrue when making them. This can be difficult, particularly if the comments are opinion-based rather than factual. You may need to contact Human Resources to explain the situation and try to access your personnel folder. Look for any instances where your boss praised your work or positive performance reviews.
Also, see if other people have been victims of defamation by your former boss. If so, this could suggest a pattern of behavior.
If you can prove all the elements of defamation, you may be able to recover damages for your losses, including lost wages and damage to your reputation. You may also be able to recover punitive damages, which are designed to punish the person who made the defamatory statements.