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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.
The law assumes, however, that some statements cause harm to reputation, by the very nature of the statement.
Statements that reflect upon one's character in a manner that will cause ridicule, hatred, contempt, or injury to trade or profession, if proven, are defamation per se, and do not require proof of actual damages.
Opinions are not facts, so defamation claims based solely on unfavorable opinions will fail.
However, since defamation involves harm to an individual's reputation, and because reputation is difficult to quantify, actual damage is often difficult or impossible to prove.
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.
If the supervisor tells a co-worker who has no need to know that the employee did something horrible, then the co-worker is probably a third party, and the supervisor's statement is defamatory.
The employee must still prove that the statement caused damage, though.If the employer knows that the employee did not steal but says so anyways, the employer probably loses the privilege.