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How do you handle an ex-employee's false online allegations?

How easy would it be for one disgruntled former employee to destroy your reputation? Ten or 20 years ago, an angry ex-employee's outburst on the local scene might create a momentary stir, but little more. Only someone with real influence could do any significant damage.

Thanks to the invention of social media and perhaps an all-too-human love of gossip, the average employee may now have more influence and power than you realize. Many employers have social media policies that control what their current employees post online about the company to some degree, but it's much harder to figure out a way to handle an angry and vocal ex-employee.

What can you do if you are worried about what an ex-employee is posting online?

-- Consider whether or not you want to bring more attention to the matter.

If you bring a lawsuit against a former employee to stop him or her from saying something about your company, you're likely to attract more attention. That could hurt your company more than it helps. However, a "cease and desist" letter, combined with a request to the Internet service provider (ISP) or social media platform asking for the defamatory material to be removed, may be a good way to quietly handle the matter.

-- Make sure that the statements are actually defamatory.

Defamation is a false statement that injures your reputation. It doesn't particularly matter where it is published -- on the employee's relatively obscure blog or a Facebook account that has 10,000 followers -- but it does have to be a statement of fact and untrue. Something expressed as an opinion can't be considered legally defamatory. Something that's true, no matter how injurious, also can't be defamatory.

-- Discuss a lawsuit for defamation with your attorney.

If all else fails and the damage is already done, you may find it necessary to proceed with a lawsuit against your former employee for defamation. This can accomplish several things:

-- It can provide injunctive relief and stop any new defamatory statements from being published.

-- It can allow you to recover damages, if possible, from the former employee.

-- It can throw light on the whole situation and show clients and customers that there is no truth to the statements.

Every situation involving a disgruntled ex-employee is unique, so discuss yours with an attorney before you decide your next move.

Source: injury.findlaw.com, "Defamation and Social Media: What You Need To Know," accessed May 02, 2017

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