Gossip Equals Defamation Equals Lawsuit

By Fitzgerald, Walter L Jr | Drug Topics, May 19, 1997 | Go to article overview

Gossip Equals Defamation Equals Lawsuit


Fitzgerald, Walter L Jr, Drug Topics


Scenario 1:

"Pssst! Can you believe those idiotic ideas of that new pharmacist hired a few weeks ago?" asked staff pharmacist Smith of the pharmacy technician. "I can't believe our boss hired that pharmacist; she could not have been thinking clearly at the time. I really believe our new pharmacist has a mental condition. One thing is certain-he is incompetent."

Scenario 2:

"Well, here is another example of why Dr. Jones needs to get some continuing medical education on new drugs," said pharmacist Doe to the pharmacy technician. "He continues to write for this drug, even though more effective drugs have been on the market for years. It is a shame that his patients suffer from his lack of current knowledge."

Gossip in the workplace has been around as long as there have been workplaces. The intensity of gossip varies between workplaces, based on various factors. These factors include the personality of each employee, perceived job security and risk of downsizing, competition between employees, and professional envy. Unfortunately, gossip can destroy careers, ruin morale, and expose employees and employers to legal liability.

While the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, it does not grant complete freedom of speech in the workplace. Harmful gossip can be considered defamation, and an employee who has been the subject of defamation may sue the coworker or the employer, or both.

Defamation in the workplace is not limited to employee-employer relationships, as shown by scenario 2. Gossip about a patient or another health-care professional, if defamatory, can serve as the basis for legal liability.

Defamation may be defined as the unconsented and unprivileged communication to a third party of a false statement that tends to injure a person's reputation by lowering the community's estimation of the person, or by causing the person to be shunned or avoided, or by exposing the person to hatred, contempt, or ridicule. The method of communication of the statement determines the kind of action to be brought. A statement that is written constitutes libel, while a statement that is oral constitutes slander.

Defamation may be classified as either "per quod" or "per se" defamation. With per quod defamation, the person about whom the statement is made must prove that he or she has been harmed as a result of the false statement and must show actual economic damage. With per se defamation, it is presumed that the person about whom the statement is made has been harmed and that damage has been caused. …

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