Slander mixed with power: A tasty but nasty cocktail
By Cindy Isaak-Ploegman
Slander is defined as making a statement about another person with the intent to implicate them in a criminal activity, ruin their professional reputation, imply they have a terrible disease, or cast doubt on their chastity (Jerrold, 2001). Slander may cost individuals their client base, employment opportunities, promotion, and a good name.
In my opinion slander when mixed with power, is one of the most repugnant unprofessional behaviors. Foucault maintained that power is not an entity, but occurs only in relationship and cannot be exercised without the production of truth or knowledge (Foucault, 1980). This is why students are vulnerable to the power exerted by their educators (Nicholas, 1999), and clients are vulnerable to power by those who provide them with dental hygiene care and health education.
Educators need to be mindful to avoid creating or allowing a culture infused with slander between professionals or between students and instructors. Practitioners need to be careful not to speak disparagingly of those they serve: their clients.
We seem to be almost gleeful in our quest to know details of other's dirt and are so hooked on casting light on evil doing, but we seldom question the veracity of the information. Freedom of speech does not include a departure from professional conversation or the truth.
Even the grave offers no insurance from slander (Taff, 1988). When Whitney Houston passed away, we felt we were owed all the gory details not considering the implications to her family and friends of the speculations that were made.
The legal implications of slander involve a defendant needing to prove that the statements were not meant to be slanderous, but were expressions of fact or merely a difference of opinion, and the plaintiff is not required to prove harm was done (Jerrold, 2001). Even though a slanderer may not be found liable in a court of law, they may be found guilty of professional misconduct by their governing body, so statements of superiority, negativity, and commenting inappropriately about a colleague should always be avoided (Jerrold, 2001). Although escaping paying punitive action in the courts, a governing body still has the power to remove a professional’s license.
Other implications may include a professional's liability insurance that only covers the professional if the context in which the slander occurred included a professional service, and may not cover a professional choosing to speak disparagingly of a fellow colleague outside the context of client care (O'Hern, 1968).
The implications for the workplace are obvious, as power exists between those being bullied and those being employed. It has even gone full circle with employers now hesitant to provide an honest assessment of former employees in a reference due to the risk of being accused of slander (McConnell, 2000).
The antidote to slander is communication between colleagues and between professionals and clients to diminish potential misunderstandings. Clarification goes a long way to explain what we may assume is unethical (Broad, 1982) or suspect behavior or character.
And finally, what goes around comes around. Our slanderous comments may not definitively land us in a legal battle or cost us our licenses, but we know for sure we do not want to be on the receiving end of slander. If we are honest most of us have participated in slander: its gossip after five minutes. If you have been the victim of slander, you know it only leaves a nasty taste in your mouth. I look forward to hearing of your experiences and views on this topic.
Broad, W. J. (1982). NIH grapples with misconduct. Science (New York, N.Y.), 217(4556), 227.
Canadian Dental Hygienists Association. (2002). Code of ethics. Retrieved from http://www.cdha.ca/pdfs/Profession/Resources/CDHA_Code_of_Ethics_public.pdf
Crow, S. M., Hartman, S. J., Nolan, T. E., & Zembo, M. (2003). A prescription for the rogue doctor: Part I--begin with diagnosis. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, (411)(411), 334-339. doi:10.1097/01.blo.0000068762.86536.c6
Foucault, M. (1980). Two Lectures. In C. Gordon (Ed.), Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977 (pp. 78-108). Kate Soper, trans. New York, NY: Pantheon Books.
Jerrold, L. (2001). Sticks and stones. American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial
Orthopedics, 119, 455-6.
McConnell, C. R. (2000). Employment references: Walking scared between the minefield of defamation and the specter of negligent hiring. The Health Care Manager, 19(2), 78-90.
Nicholas, B. (1999). Power and the teaching of medical ethics. Journal of Medical Ethics, 25(6), 507-513.
O'Hern, V. M. (1968). Liability insurance for slander and libel. JAMA:The Journal of the American Medical Association, 206(13), 2985-2986.
Taff, M. L. (1988). Libel and slander protection for the dead. another problem for medical examiners. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 9(1), 1-4.