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I handed in my notice and the reason for resignation was I felt bullied in the work place. I stated in the notice that I felt bullied and explained all of the work that I do and how much slack I pick up and I could no longer do my job and everyone else’s because it was effecting my mental health. He got back to me and said that I need to contact a solicitor because it is slander and I was accusing him of bullying me. Am I in the wrong?

Edit - his reply then disregarded my mental health and told me he’s not having that. He also said that he’s spoke to my previous employment and I’ve always painted that picture. (If you ask any of my previous employers about me they would sing my praises, i have never left anywhere on bad terms or for my mental health). He also starts to tell me he has evidence of these things, which I’m sure he can’t because any previous employer isn’t allowed to give a bad reference or even talk about previous employers in a gossiping way. I haven’t done what he accused me of.

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    Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on The Workplace Meta, or in The Workplace Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Kilisi
    Dec 9, 2023 at 3:46
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    Did only your boss see the notice? or did you send it to multiple people? Slander is only when you talk about someone to other people.
    – Aequitas
    Dec 11, 2023 at 0:00
  • Yeah, only my boss unless he’s shown it to others around the workplace
    – Gordon
    Dec 11, 2023 at 12:58

10 Answers 10

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No. You say you wrote the accusation of bullying only in a letter to your boss. They may believe it to be untrue, or find it insulting but it is not defamatory. If you publish/broadcast these accusations more widely, present them as fact, and your boss can demonstrate the accusations are untrue and they suffered loss as a result, they may have a case. While it remains between the two of you, they are just sounding off.

Work your notice with the minimum of friction between you and your boss, then move on. In future, keep a letter of resignation simple - by the time you have chosen to resign, you have nothing to gain by making accusations - if you feel strongly that you want redress, e.g. if you think you have a case for constructive dismissal, consult a solicitor, Citizens Advice Bureau or, if you are a member, your trade union.

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    I'm pretty sure that letter will at least go to HR for filing and archiving. So it's not exactly "between the two of you".
    – nvoigt
    Dec 8, 2023 at 8:10
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    @nvoigt If HR read it and start passing it around, the whole company is in bigger trouble.
    – Neil
    Dec 8, 2023 at 10:11
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    I didn't say anything about "passing it around", I said that HR will want any resignation notice for their files, so it cannot possibly stay between the two, there will be at least one person more. Unless the company is so small it doesn't have an HR department.
    – nvoigt
    Dec 8, 2023 at 10:30
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    If the boss hands it to HR, that is the boss doing it, not OP.
    – gnasher729
    Dec 8, 2023 at 12:36
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    At least in the US, making a statement to a small number of people in a private setting (such as the HR department of the company where you work) is not considered to be "publication."
    – A. R.
    Dec 8, 2023 at 14:46
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While the correct answer was to just hand your notice in and stop talking, we cannot exactly put the chick back into the egg.

He got back to me and said that I need to contact a solicitor because it is slander and I was accusing him of bullying me.

This is the result of not doing so. Now what to do is to finally stop talking, work out your notice period and stick to the point of not touching the subject, and not speaking with that person in non-recorded form (aka voice recording, email, text anything that leaves a trail beyond interpretation).

And in all likelihood that will be it, because unless you really did some sort of slander (pretty high bar) even if they try, no solicitor who values their licence will take it anywhere. If you do receive a letter from solictor, or courts if they decide to go off-procedure, then come back and open up a new question with details.

And for the future stick to the rule number one: keep it shut.

Addendum.

Keep in mind that this is all in context of handing in your notice. If you wanted to speak against bullying (as you should, if possible as life can not be that simple and there may not be enough legal protection for you, it depends) is during the employment. But as you are moving on, there's nothing to gain here from speaking up.

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    "And for the future stick to the rule number one: keep it shut." this should be in bold, underlined, and size 72 font. Absolutely do not make any more statements on this issue, under any condition, no matter what. Especially not over anything that can be saved like text or email. But even talking over the phone or in person can be record or have witnesses, so just say nothing. This is also just generally true for anything that is going to involve a lawyer at some point. Dec 7, 2023 at 19:39
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    I just want to point out here that while I completely agree that a resignation should be handed in without this kind of explanation, this answer (and JackGifford's comment underneath) leaves it slightly too open for this to be interpreted as "never bring up workplace bullying" which is a very different point to take away and not something I agree with (I don't think either person intended it that way to begin with, but it would be nice to remove this ambiguity in interpretation for the sake of the readers)
    – Flater
    Dec 8, 2023 at 2:56
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    KEEP MOUTH SHUT Yes, but also read carefully and retain all communications since if this progresses legally you will need every shred of evidence regarding what happened and when. Dec 8, 2023 at 8:34
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    Just to add to this answer: Many think it's a great place to vent their frustrations. You may get a temporary kick out of it. But objectively, there are only drawbacks to including any feedback in your resignation notice. Nobody will say "oh how right you are, I will change my ways", and even if they did, the person resigning wouldn't profit from it. So as the answer says: Keep your resignation to a minimum. Passive/aggressively being slightly less polite in the good-bye? Fair enough, if you must. Don't put anything unnecessary in, though.
    – bytepusher
    Dec 8, 2023 at 12:39
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    @HappyIdiot Playing dead or not depends on the species of bear. See Bear Attacks. So always remember to ask a bear to identify themselves prior to them attacking you. /s
    – Peter M
    Dec 8, 2023 at 14:38
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It should not come as a shock to you that your boss, who you believed bullied you, is attempting to bully you some more. The chances of him actually following through on an attempt to sue for libel are basically nil, but that's out of your hands now so there's no point borrowing trouble from the future by worrying about it. You can burn that bridge when you come to it. For now, understand that this is simply the normal behaviour of a bully: to try and turn being called out by you into you feeling bad because of his threats.

In the unlikely event he does actually attempt to sue, you can find a solicitor at that time.

Finally, as some advice for the future: there is little or no value in airing complaints in a resignation letter. Instead, blandly state you are leaving, thank them for your time with them, and enjoy your future without them.

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    Such a great first sentence, exactly what I thought after reading the question. Bully boss just proving OPs point. Dec 10, 2023 at 13:38
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Obligatory 'Not a Lawyer'

So - can your boss sue for Libel?

Libel being a defaming statement made in writing, Slander being a defaming statement said orally.

Given the information so far - I said 'No'.

UK Government site talking Libel and Slander

  1. Such a statement constitutes a "libel" if it is:

published (publication, for these purposes, is simply the communication of the defamatory matter to a third person)2; and in writing, print or some other permanent form.

It's that third person part that is going to be tricky for him. My understanding of UK law is that I can abuse you to your face - call you all sorts of names and accusations... but since only you are hearing them/seeing them, your reputation held by others isn't impacted

The moment I say to someone else, then potentially I may have slandered/libeled you.

Quick aside here - Truth is a defense against Libel/Slander - so if you felt bullied and that's the reason you quit - they would have a hard time proving that what you felt wasn't true. If you had detailed a particular scenario e.g. '5 days ago, you yelled at me for 30 minutes because I hadn't included the cover on my TPS report' - and that didn't happen as you said it did, then you could be in hot water.

Your boss, at most, may be able to make the claim that he needs to log your resignation letter with HR and that would constitute a 3rd party seeing it - but I'm not sure that would fly.

In short - I would say that the empty (and incorrect) legal threats would be a really good example to record and then should he try to sue you for libel - you could present them as evidence of the type of bullying behavior that caused you to leave.

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    Thank you for your reply! It has had me worrying since he told me to contact a solicitor
    – Gordon
    Dec 7, 2023 at 21:32
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    @Gordon He's just lashing out. My response would have been that if I go to a solicitor it will be to sue them for workplace harassment and constructive dismissal, and that if they go to a solicitor then they should expect a counter-claim on that basis. In reality you have nothing to worry about - it would be extremely foolish of them to sue you in these circumstances. Dec 8, 2023 at 8:26
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    You can tell anyone to contact a solicitor, any time you want. You could even tell your boss that! (Probably not best in this case, but you could.) Just because someone says that doesn't meant that you should or even need to. They could just be trying to (continue) bully you.
    – krillgar
    Dec 8, 2023 at 15:40
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    @JonBentley "I'm quitting because you're a bully!" "You take that back, or I'm going to sue you!" <= They're giving you Exhibit 47 of the bullying behavior.
    – krillgar
    Dec 8, 2023 at 15:41
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    @TheDemonLord Not even that: someone who has chosen to be identified as "Gordon" -- she could be called Amelia. Dec 10, 2023 at 12:30
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There are a lot of answers already, but I wanted to expand a little on them, because there are some holes in what has been said so far.

First point is that there is no United Kingdom law on defamation. The UK consists of essentially three jurisdictions:

  • England and Wales
  • Northern Ireland
  • Scotland

In English common law, and I believe that of Ireland, defamation requires "publication" - that is that the defamatory statement is communicated by the defendant to someone other than the person complaining of the defamation. As you describe your case, that is the end of the matter.

In Scots law things were different. Per Mackay v M’Cankie (1883) 10 R 537, there was no need for publication to a third party. Since you did not say which part of the UK you were in, answers based on English law may not be enough.

However, very recently, under section 1 of the Defamation and Malicious Publication (Scotland) Act 2021, publication in Scotland also requires publication to a third party.

The second point that others have made is that "slander" and "libel" are historically different kinds of defamation. Slander is pretty much restricted to spoken defamation. A written notice (on paper or by email) would be libel.

Does this matter? For one thing it is more evidence that this is just bluster by your boss. But I think that's about it.

The English law distinction between the two was that under slander, the claimant had to prove damage, whereas under libel, no proof was necessary. But that is no longer true. Proof of damage is necessary for all defamation, indeed section 1 of the Defamation Act 2013 requires the claimant to prove "serious harm" or the likelihood of serious harm. The same is now true of Scotland under the 2021 Act.

Unless there is something you haven't told us about your notice, and you expressed yourself in language so extreme as to cause some form of mental injury to your boss, it is hard to see how a claim would or could be possible.

Finally, as others have said, if you resign because of awful treatment by your boss that may be treated as amounting to a dismissal and that may in turn be something you could claim for, depending on a lot more circumstances that go beyond this particular question and have to do with employment law. Most of that law is harmonised between Scotland, England and Wales under the same legislation, but Northern Ireland is different, though the similarities are enough to say at least what I said at the start of this paragraph.

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I'm not a lawyer, but no, he can't, for the following reasons:

  • Criticizing someone in private is not defamation (even if he believes the criticism to be unfair or unfounded).
  • Even more to the point, saying that you feel bullied is extremely difficult to disprove, and truth is a defense against slander. What's he going to do - prove that you didn't feel that way?
  • I'm not sure if the same thing would apply in the U.K., but in the U.S. at least, my understanding is that accusing someone of being a bully is an expression of an opinion, and opinions can't be defamatory.
  • I'm sure that you're able to supply specific examples of his bullying behavior if needed. Again, truth is a defense against slander.
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    Regarding the 3rd point: the UK's libel laws are famously awful. Dec 8, 2023 at 15:56
  • @Jack Aidley: In what way? Dec 8, 2023 at 21:07
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    @PeterMortensen in general, more of the burden of proof falls on the defendant in English law than in (say) the American system. Whether this is awful is going to depend on which side of a particular argument your own loyalties lie, and where you consider the balance between free speech and consequence-less speech is.
    – origimbo
    Dec 9, 2023 at 14:19
  • @PeterMortensen: I feel that is a discussion too long for an SE comment thread. Broadly: immensely costly, unfair balance of proof, and frequently used to intimidate individuals making fair comment. Dec 9, 2023 at 16:16
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    The communication wasn't private between the OP and the manager. The OP added a note to his notice. Unless it's a one-man business, that notice will be seen by other people -- HR at least.
    – Abigail
    Dec 10, 2023 at 16:09
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You don't say where this happened. Laws vary a lot from one country to the next, and even state or city, to another. Since you used the term "solicitor" I'm guessing that you might be British. In that case, my answer may not apply - you would have to check with a local lawyer.

I'm not a lawyer, and a lot depends on circumstances, but under US law (federal law) you may indeed want to get a lawyer - but for a different reason. What you describe sounds like a hostile work environment. You may be able to sue the company for wrongful termination even if you were the one who handed in the notice. What matters that the work environment was so hostile that you were essentially forced to give notice.

Of course, be sure you have enough evidence if you want to bring such a case.

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    "Since you used the term "solicitor" I'm guessing that you might be British." This is further evidenced by the "united-kingdom" tag on the question. Check the tags, as they often contain useful context information that's not in the body of the question itself. Dec 9, 2023 at 12:37
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Here is a suggestion to consider, considering you were able to communicate that he is a bully and beyond that nothing is gained by taking it further, which it doesn't sound like you cared to anyway, sometimes it is important to explain the reason but we can consider that done now.

My suggestion would be to re-write the resignation letter with the parts about him removed, and just put down that you are resigning to pursue other opportunities and keep the letter simple and direct and polite, leave out all of the details.

Bring that to him and just be like "here is a copy that has been updated with some parts removed, I was able to communicate what I felt I needed to say but don't necessarily need to document it, I just wanted to give my honest reason and was able to."

Now, he never would have been able to sue you, so that is not the reason for doing this. First, by handing him a clean one it will not be recorded on any paperwork he has to submit, and if he tampered with your letter he may get in some kind of trouble so he may be kind of forced to put that on his own record in a way, so even though you are doing him a favor after he has been a bully you save yourself an enemy and he may even respond positively and lighten up for the remaining time there. And you both maintain your professionalism and can peacefully part ways.

The second reason, and I am not familiar with the employment or unemployment laws where you live but if he is paying something like unemployment insurance and has to turn that in to the state he may have to pay more in unemployment insurance or it may complicate the process between him and the unemployment office or agency there. I have lived in places where firing an employee would cost a lot more than the employee quitting, and so re-drafting the letter may help to avoid friction with the unemployment agency, and may even help you access that unemployment benefits if that is something that you might use in between jobs.

The overall goal is to not create either personal or legal friction or complications, or tarnish a record that gains you nothing but an enemy, and who knows he may give you a positive recommendation as a reference if this smooths him out a bit.

P.S. - I wanted to add one more thing, and I am not a practicing lawyer but I took law school and while I would not give you legal advice as I am not allowed to, I can tell you what I have seen in nearly every case that I have read and every case I have heard about i real life, is that when you sue somebody, even if you win you don't win. The state will take most of the settlement typically, along with the lawyers and the court, and collecting in a lawsuit is not worth it or in some cases impossible. My overall observation is that you lose the second you are involved in a lawsuit on either side, and it is best to be avoided if at all possible and especially when there has been no great harm done, it just really is not worth it.

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First, I want to make it clear that I am, thankfully, not a solicitor.

Second, if your boss claimed you committed slander, your boss may not be very well educated. It is fairly common knowledge that slander is for spoken defamation, and that libel is for written defamation. You submitted your resignation in writing, and your boss accused you of slander; that's ignorant. Of course, as I mentioned, I am not a solicitor, so perhaps I am simply demonstrating my own lack of expertise.

Third, my understanding is that for a statement to be libel or slander, the statement must be demonstrably false. Since your statement is based on your true feelings, my understanding is that it cannot be reasonably considered libel (or slander, if it was instead spoken).

Fourth, for someone to recover damages for libel or slander, my understanding is that they must demonstrate that they were damaged. To my knowledge, without damages, there is nothing to recover.

Given your edit, it's possible you have a case against your boss for intentional infliction of emotional abuse. For that, you'll need to consult a solicitor. If you have records of receiving mental health treatment and your mental health provider can testify to damage caused by your boss or work environment, perhaps there is an avenue for legal recourse.

Finally, I congratulate you on resigning. Your boss sounds like nothing more than a classic bully. You will likely be much happier in your future endeavors. I wish you the best.

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  • Yes I have evidence, since I started there I was in hospital because my anxiety was so bad I thought I had a health problem. I then changed my anti-depressants and got put on anxiety blockers and sleep medication because I couldn’t sleep anymore
    – Gordon
    Dec 10, 2023 at 12:30
  • I'm sorry to hear that. Those are very real and serious health issues. If they were caused by your boss bullying you or by an atypical workplace environment, perhaps there is some legal recourse. Whether or not it is worth pursuing may be another matter. BTW, if you don't have a meditation practice in your life, you may want to ask your health professionals if they think it could benefit you. Dec 10, 2023 at 12:43
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I want to keep it simple.

  1. Notice: The only information in your notice should be the information that you're planning to leave. If you're leaving because of a problem in the company, keep it to yourself. They will not change anything if you tell them and might get pissed, as you've seen.
  2. Defamation lawsuit: There is no defamation lawsuit. Notice is a document between you and the company, so you're not slandering them anywhere. Even if you shared this claim publicly, the company would have to prove that you were not bullied and you deliberately lied about it. Difficult thing to prove.
  3. Mental health: pertaining to your edit, reading your post makes me feel your boss is getting under your skin. I am not a psychologist, but I strongly suggest avoiding any non-work conversations and ignoring anything that is said to you that is not work related.
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  • "the company would have to prove that you were not bullied and you deliberately lied about it." ─ That's not true in the UK: "The claimant is not required to prove that the content of the statement was false." (Wikipedia)
    – kaya3
    Dec 10, 2023 at 21:49
  • @kaya3 You're right except the same article says the claimant must prove significant harm which is even harder to prove in this case: "Defamation Act 2013 added a requirement that the claimant show 'serious harm' was caused" Dec 11, 2023 at 11:08

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