Avoiding Defamation Claims Arising Out of Harassment Investigations

Risk Research Bulletin | May 2019 | 0 Comments  Average 5 out of 5

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About This Resource

The investigation of harassment allegations can lead to serious defamation claims. Conducting a thorough, professional, and confidential investigation is the best way to avoid litigation from harassment and defamation.

Communications made as part of a legitimate workplace investigation are subject to the powerful protections of a qualified privilege and are exempt from liability. To prevent defamation claims, it is important to protect this qualified privilege. Examples of abusing this privilege include:  

  • A defamatory statement is shared with individuals who have no legitimate need to hear or read it.
  • A speaker allegedly publishes a defamatory statement with malice To prevent defamation claims related to a harassment allegation, it is important to carefully follow your institution’s investigative procedures and educate participants about the need for truthfulness and confidentiality.

Other tips include:

  • Keep files about the investigation separate from personnel files, in a locked area with limited access.
  • Investigators should attempt to establish the accuracy of new allegations before repeating them.
  • Limit the audience and the details shared with each witness.
  • Appoint investigators and decision makers perceived as neutral.  

Read this Risk Research Bulletin for more information on conducting an effective harassment investigation while reducing the risk of related defamation claims.


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