Were you about to be fired for harassment? If not, you can inform the employer to remove the wrong information from your file.
Alternatively, you have the right in WA to insert your own statement into your employment file.
If you were not harassing anyone, the employer should not be telling anyone else that you were harassing someone. If the employer is telling others something untrue about you, you sue the employer.
If the employer does not tell anyone that you were harassing anyone, you are not being harmed as the employer's file on you is not visible to anyone outside of your employer.
In order to meet the legal standard for defamation, what your former employer says about you must be:
- A statement of fact (as opposed to opinion),
- Factually untrue, and
- Disclosed to a third party.
A statement like, "Taylor was fired for harassment" is a statement of fact, as opposed to opinion.
If the statement is factually untrue, it meets the second part of the test.
As my colleague has indicated, if you were about to be fired for harassment and you resigned only in order to prevent them from firing you, you would have a difficult time meeting this standard. But if you resigned voluntarily and they planted a false accusation in your personnel file after you gave them notice, you could satisfy this part of the test.
At this point, you have not said anything to indicate that the employer has made a false statement about you to a third party. As long as the employer does not disseminate the false information to anybody else, it has not committed defamation.
Can you get a court order that would prevent the employer from defaming you?
That's a complicated question.
If you had posted your question 20 years ago, I would not have hesitated to tell you that the answer was "no." Traditionally, courts have refused to issue orders enjoining defamation because of concerns about the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech. We get really uncomfortable when a government actor -- i.e., the judge -- places a prior restraint on speech and tells somebody that they're not allowed to say something before the judge even knows what the person's exact words will be. Instead, the rule has always been that you have to wait until a person says something, and then sue them for damages if the statement turns out to be defamatory.
But we're starting to see some cracks in the traditional rule. There have been several occasions in recent years where courts have issued injunctions against defamatory speech. These cases are not common. But they do exist. So I can't give you a definite answer to the question of whether you might be able to convince a court to grant you an injunction against defamation. The best I can give you is a "probably not."
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