Q. I understand that my company can be held liable for statements I make to employers seeking references for my former employees. What about statements I make or information I provide to the Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) regarding employment security benefits?
A. In Georgia, statements made by an employer to the GDOL in connection with a former employee’s claim for unemployment benefits are subject to an absolute privilege and therefore are not actionable.
In contrast to most privileges, which are described as “qualified,” an absolute privilege cannot be overcome by evidence of malice, bad faith, ill will, etc. This is not to say, however, that employers are free to provide false information to the GDOL without any legal consequences whatsoever.
To the contrary, under Georgia law, it is a misdemeanor for an employer to provide false information to the GDOL in order to prevent or reduce the payment of unemployment benefits to a former employee.
It is also important for employers to bear in mind that state law privileges are not applicable to federal claims. Thus, while there is no federal defamation claim, allegedly false statements provided by a former employer are often the basis for discrimination and harassment claims under Title VII and other federal employment statutes.
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