Q. We fired an employee for stealing company property. While we didn’t catch her red-handed, the circumstantial evidence was overwhelming and we felt comfortable letting her go. The employee filed an unemployment compensation claim that we contested, and now a hearing has been scheduled before an appeals referee. We would like to say at the hearing that the employee is a thief, but we’re afraid we’ll face a defamation claim because we can’t absolutely prove this charge. Would that be a well-founded concern?
A. You have nothing to fear. Under the Texas statute governing unemployment compensation, an oral or written statement made to the Texas Workforce Commission or one of its employees in connection with an unemployment compensation matter cannot form the basis of an action for defamation of character.
This statute provides assurance to an employer that it may speak freely concerning the circumstances of a former employee’s separation without fear of a libel or slander action.
Thus written statements in response to the unemployment compensation claim and oral statements at any hearing before the hearing examiner are “privileged.”