Gossip and Slander : Part 1

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Q: A year ago, I answered an ad for a ‘personal assistant’.  The lady said that the work would consist of supervising her household staff, general secretarial work and organizing her financial records.

It turned out that I was required to work at very physical house-cleaning work.  I had to clean the basement, work on my hands and knees steaming carpets and stand on ladders – like to change light bulbs on all seven staircases.  One night I had to stay late and haul plywood boards from the floor of the east basement to an outside dumpster.

At the beginning, I had to perform my clerical work on the floor.  The lady got me a desk, but I found ants in it, and she wouldn’t pay for spray.

I needed the money, and tried to tough it out, but yesterday she fired me.  In front of the other workers, the lady said that I had been stealing.  Before firing me, she had taken my cell phone out of my handbag and called all of my contacts telling them that I am crazy.

A: It is likely that your situation involves many violations of the Labor Law.  For example, section 191(3) says that, if employment is terminated, the employer shall pay your wages not later than the regular pay day for the pay period during which the termination occurred.  Were your last wages paid?  You have the right to request that your last wages be paid by mail.  Did you?  Were they?

For another example, section 215(1)(a) forbids retaliation against an employee.  Did you ever complain that your employer had been violating the Labor Law?  Is that one of the reasons she fired you?

You may also have a case involving ‘slander per se’, because your employer’s statement that you had been stealing constitutes an allegation of a serious crime.  Your lawyer will want to know the exact words that the lady used and precisely in front of whom these words were spoken.  Forgive me for saying so, but you have no case if you actually did steal: truth is a defense.

In the law of libel and slander, there is a general rule that expressions of mere opinion do not give rise to a lawsuit.  To the extent that your employer merely gave an opinion that you had been stealing, that would weaken your case.  Also, calling someone ‘crazy’ is generally dismissed by the courts as mere expression of opinion.  The taking of your cell phone, however, is likely to be considered a wrong in itself.

By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial

The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.

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