NEW YORK, NEW YORK — Attorney Steven Mitchell Sack, “The Employee’s Lawyer ®” and author of his latest book “FIRED! Protect Your Rights & FIGHT BACK If You’re Terminated, Laid Off, Downsized, Restructured, Forced to Resign or Quit,” has announced that he has launched a new podcast titled “Know Your Rights with Attorney Steven Sack.” These podcasts will educate listeners on what they should do if they have been unjustly terminated or if they have been denied benefits, commissions and other forms of compensation after a firing or a layoff.
The first episode, “Depp & Defamation”, examines how those who are seeking a new job can be subject to slander by a former employer, thereby destroying any chances for the job seeker obtaining future employment. One case he talks about focuses on a group of employees who were fired from an insurance company for refusing to falsify expense reports. The employer claimed the workers were terminated for “gross insubordination.” The employees sued and won their case, each one of them receiving $350,000 in damages.
“The case is significant because, in some states, employees fired on false charges of bad conduct can sue their former employers for defamation, even if it is the workers themselves that are compelled to disclose the false information in the interview, and we call that compelled self-defamation,” Mr. Sack said.
Defamation, Mr. Sack said, “is defined as any false statement about an employee which is communicated by an employer to a third party that harms the employee’s reputation or deters others from dealing with him or her in a business setting. A statement can be defamatory when it holds an individual up to scorn or ridicule, accuses an individual of committing a criminal offense, having a loathsome disease like AIDS, or impugns an individual’s honesty or competence in certain cases.”
Mr. Sack says there are two forms of defamation: slander, in which false accusations against a worker are spoken, and libel, in which those falsehoods are in writing. In order for workers to protect themselves from defamation, he offers the following advice:
- Do not sign a release — this will hold the employer harmless and shield them from liability for any false statements thy make to a third party.
- Review the company’s purposed separation agreement — the company will ask the employee not to disparage the company in any way, but the employee should request that the agreement be mutual.
- Negotiate to receive a positive reference agreement — in the event the employee is terminated, he or she can receive a favorable reference from their former employer.
- Seek legal action immediately if given a negative reference — this should be done in the event the employer terminates the worker and provides a negative reference in retaliation for a harassment or discrimination claim.
- Act promptly if the former employer made defamatory remarks — not acting sooner may hinder the employee’s ability to find a job.
- Use your state’s “service letter” statutes — some states make it a crime for ex-employers to provide negative references that are false and allow terminated employees to sue if they do not obtain a written statement from the ex-employer stating the real reason for the termination.
- Research your state’s defamation and job reference laws — employees should send a letter to their ex-employer explaining the true reason why they were fired and demand a response within a certain amount of time, or else the company will be in violation of the state’s service letter
- Consult with an employment attorney — if an employee believes he or she is unemployable because of a former employer’s defamatory statements, he or she should meet with an employment attorney immediately.
- Recognize your rights while fighting defamation — defamation need not occur after termination; it can happen during the worker’s employment period.
“Whenever you believe that false information or poor references have been given to prospective employers, especially after your discharge, companies face more legal exposure from leaking personal or confidential information after a firing than from a firing itself,” Mr. Sack said. “Know your rights and take action if you’ve been wronged.”
Mr. Sack’s podcast is available on Spotify and YouTube.