For example, an employer that informs an employee assistance program that a truck driver tested positive for heroin use is not liable for defamation if the positive test was false because the employee did not tell the drug testing lab that he was taking prescribed Vicodin.
For all the employer knew, the drug test was accurate, and it had no reason to believe otherwise.
An employer has a qualified privilege to make statements about its employees concerning matters of their employment, especially when made in response to another employer's request for a reference.
The "privilege" is a defense to a defamation claim.
In that case, the court can conclude that the statement meant the employee was a witness and find that the statement is innocent.
Defamation at work requires publication of the false statement to a third party.
If a factual statement has two meanings, one innocent and one defamatory, courts can adopt the innocent meaning and reject the claim for workplace defamation.
For example, saying that detectives are questioning an employee about a suspected theft could imply that the employee is a suspected thief, or a witness to a theft.
Opinions are not facts, so defamation claims based solely on unfavorable opinions will fail.
The statement that an employee "seemed shifty" expresses an opinion, while the employee "stole from me" is a statement of fact.
Each state has its own test for proving defamation at work.