Although most employees leave their jobs on good terms, those who do not may wish to vilify their boss or malign the company out of anger. As an owner, you have options for protecting your business from this kind of behavior.
If someone is bad-mouthing you or your company, or if you would like to prevent this behavior in the future, talk to an Atlanta non-disparagement agreements lawyer at Sparks Law. Our skilled legal advisors could draft contracts and clauses that help preserve your company’s reputation.
Many people mistakenly believe that disparagement and defamation are the same. Although they both concern negative statements or actions, and both can harm people and businesses, these two concepts have key differences. Defamation is a tort that requires the plaintiff to prove harm from the defendant’s actions, while disparagement only requires that the plaintiff prove the defendant made a negative remark.
There are two forms of defamation: written (libel) or spoken (slander). In either case, someone communicates something egregious about a person or company to at least one other party, to the extent that it harms the victim’s reputation or business standing.
Opinions, such as calling someone a jerk, do not constitute defamation. However, telling a spiteful lie that ends in harm to the person’s reputation may be defamation. For example, lying to others that someone stole office materials, causing that person to lose a job, is probably defamation.
Importantly, truth is a defense to defamation. In other words, if what someone says about another is true, that person cannot claim defamation. Thus, if the above person did steal office supplies, they cannot sue for defamation.
Non-disparagement clauses and agreements are meant to dissuade disgruntled employees from bad-mouthing a company, its management, and its employees. If there is an agreement in place, it does not matter whether the negative statement is true or not. Either way, it constitutes disparagement.
Disparagement can occur in Facebook rants, conversations with competitors, interviews, or any spoken or written words that call a company’s reputation into question. Unlike defamation, employers can enforce non-disparagement agreements even for small comments, such as calling the boss an idiot. A skilled Atlanta lawyer could advise employers about enforcing or drafting new non-disparagement clauses to prevent these issues.
Social media has become a popular way to air ideas and opinions, including negative ones about former employers, companies’ management styles, or products. A boss will probably never find out if a former employee calls them a jerk to their spouse, but since social media has such a broad audience, the boss might find out if the insult is on Facebook or in a Twitter tweet.
Widely broadcasting negative facts or opinions about a company can do irreparable harm. At Sparks Law, our attorneys are skilled at drafting non-disparagement agreements for new or departing employees that prevent potentially harmful statements.
If a company is subject to a government investigation, the investigating agency can call current and former employees bound by non-disparagement agreements, and they will have to cooperate. For instance, if the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is investigating a discrimination charge, any employee can speak truthfully, even if it negatively impacts the company. The non-disparagement agreement cannot prevent statements in these situations.
Employees who violate non-disparagement agreements or clauses in their employment contracts can face consequences. For instance, employees may have to return severance pay if they disparage their former employer.
If the employer has evidence that the former employee’s disparagement harmed the company, the court could rule that the employee must pay damages. Often, non-disparagement agreements contain liquidated damages clauses, in which the employee must pay a set amount for each breach the employer can prove. A knowledgeable attorney could memorialize language in a non-disparagement clause that protects a client’s business and outlines reparations for violations.
Most of the time, hiring and termination practices will go smoothly, and employees will keep negative opinions to themselves. However, if a disgruntled employee tries to hurt your reputation, there are legal options for addressing their statements.
A non-disparagement agreement is one of the documents you should have your employees sign when they are hired, or at least when they leave your company. An Atlanta non-disparagement agreements lawyer at Sparks Law can review the restrictive covenants in your employment contracts or help draft new ones. Call today to schedule your initial consultation.