The farmer I worked for is telling people I'm useless — what can I do?

I have recently found out that the farmer I am currently doing work for has been meeting other farmers and calling me 'useless' and saying that I 'rarely show up to do the job' — what can I do?
The farmer I worked for is telling people I'm useless — what can I do?

Defamation tends to favour plaintiffs, insofar as the burden of proof is not on the plaintiff to prove their good reputation, but on the defendant to prove that the statement is true. File picture.

Dear Stephen,

I am an independent contractor and I have recently been contracted to work on land owned by an older dairy farmer. 

I have been doing this type of work for farmers in the area for over fifteen years and I have built up a large client base. I have recently found out that the farmer I am currently doing work for has been meeting other farmers and calling me “useless” and saying that I “rarely show up to do the job”.

This is simply untrue and I have worked all of the hours I have been contracted to work. I am anxious that this will ruin my reputation and prevent me from securing future work. Do I have any claim for defamation of character here?

Dear Reader, 

I am very sorry to hear this and there are a few remedies available to you should you wish to take an action in defamation. Defamation is covered by the Defamation Act 2009 and binds the old torts of libel and slander, which respectively covered defamatory statements made in writing and those made orally.

Defamation is a tort aimed at protecting one’s good name, which is a constitutionally protected right. 

Under Section 6 of the Defamation Act 2009, the following three elements need to be satisfied in order to bring a successful action against a person accused of making defamatory statements:

  • The publication of a statement by any means.
  • The publication identifies the plaintiff.
  • The publication is defamatory in its meaning.

Burden of proof

It is crucial to be able to show that the statement made is capable of being defamatory, meaning it could injure a person’s reputation in the eyes of reasonable members of society. 

There is a statute of limitations when it comes to taking a case of defamation of one year. This can sometimes be extended up to two years with the judge’s discretion. This is provided for in Section 38 of the 2009 Act. 

I would therefore urge anyone looking to take a defamation claim to seek legal advice as soon as possible before the claim is statute-barred.

Defamation tends to favour plaintiffs, i.e. the person bringing the action, insofar as the burden of proof is not on the plaintiff to prove their good reputation, but on the defendant to prove that the statement is true.

A defamation claim will fail if the defendant can prove that the statement is true on the balance of probabilities. This is set out in Section 16 of the 2009 Act and the defence of truth is a complete defence. 

The person making the defamatory statement can also rely on defences 17-27 of the 2009 Act which include consent to publish and absolute privilege, for example.

In order for your defamation claim to have the greatest chance of success, it is important that you detail out the history of the event. 

In your case, it would be helpful to have dates and times when these defamatory statements were made and to whom they were made. 

Where possible, it would be encouraged to take witness accounts of the event. If the defamatory statements were published, it is important to keep all records of publication or any recordings of the incident occurring.

If your defamation claim is successful, you will be awarded damages. The two main types of 

damages awarded are general damages which is an award in respect of damage to reputation and special damages in respect of financial losses resulting from that damage to reputation. 

In your case, a potential loss of earnings could be calculated and you may be awarded special damages. 

Sometimes a court will also award punitive or aggravated damages when the defendant made the defamatory statement recklessly or maliciously and the plaintiff is subject to humiliating circumstances as a result of the defamation act. 

In any case, I would recommend that you promptly seek legal advice in relation to taking a defamation claim against the farmer.

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