Can I Sue My Employer For Emotional Distress?
At Miracle Mile Law Group, we get inundated with calls asking us whether an employee can file a lawsuit against an employer to recover for emotional distress damages. We understand that work can be tough in and of itself. In the case of an employer who creates emotional distress, things do not get easier.
Nonetheless, our lawyers are trained at identifying whether an employer’s conduct rises to the level of a legal claim. Some questions you are probably asking yourself at this moment include:
- Can I sue my employer for emotional distress?
- If my employer causes me a great deal of stress, can I sue?
- My employer is harassing me, can I sue for my emotional distress?
- I was wrongfully terminated and now I have emotional distress, can I file a lawsuit?
- When should I hire an employment attorney for my emotional distress?
What Is Emotional Distress?
Most people, especially employees, have had a bad day, either due to an overbearing boss or because of something out of their control. But emotional distress is more serious than just having a bad day. The key to determining whether your “bad day” is something more serious is to ask yourself: 1) how often are you experiencing this distress, 2) how long does it last, and 3) what exactly do you feel. Nonetheless the following signs should give you an idea that you’re experiencing emotional distress:
- Sleeping problems
- Weight gain or loss
- Unexplained physical conditions
- Mood swings
- Uncontrollable anger
- Obsessive behaviors
- Compulsive behaviors
- Chronic fatigue
- Excessive lack of energy
- Feeling like you do not want to be around people
- Memory problems
- Lack of sexual drive
- Thoughts of suicide
These signs can be normal from time to time. However, if they last for an extended period of time, it may be time to visit a doctor. Nonetheless, any significant change in social behavior for an extended period of time could point to an overload of stress or other emotional issues at work.
If you feel you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It is a free, 24-hour hotline, at 1.800.273.TALK (8255). Your call will be connected to the crisis center nearest to you. If you are in an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.
How Is My Employer Liable for My Emotional Distress?
There are a few theories which are available to an employee to hold their employer accountable for distress damages. An employee may be able to hold an employer liable when the employer’s acts are 1) negligent, 2) intentional, or 3) create emotional distress as part of unlawful discrimination, harassment, retaliation, or termination. When the emotional distress is caused by illegal discrimination or harassment, the employee can bring a claim under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) or under Federal law.
By having an attorney by their side, you can easily identify whether the emotional distress is due to normal workplace stress or if the distress is due to discrimination based on a protected characteristic. In the event the distress is in fact caused by unlawful workplace behavior, you may be able to recover for your damages.
However, while the law does not bar your boss from being an outright jerk, the law states that they cannot you treat less favorabley due to a protected characteristic or trait. Therefore, if your boss is singling you out and causing you emotional distress because of your age, race, disability, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or because you report a violation of law, you may have a claim.
How Do I Prove Emotional Distress In An Employment Case?
Emotional distress is difficult to prove because it is hard to put an exact number or determination on mental suffering. Unlike physical damages, there are no X-rays or MRIs that can prove you are undergoing mental anguish. However, you can prove emotional distress in a couple ways.
One way to prove that you are under severe emotional distress is through visits with a licensed doctor, therapist, or social worker. Often times, these medical professionals will issue reports detailing the intensity, duration, and type of mental anguish you are facing. This can help prove your employment law case.
Judges and juries are more sympathetic to those who have suffered from emotional distress for an extended period of time. The longer you are suffering, the more warranted emotional distress compensation is warranted.
Emotional distress is usually a symptom of some other disorder. For example, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can cause mental anguish and distress. With respect to an employment case, being discriminated against or unlawfully terminated can cause severe PTSD, especially if you are already facing financial problems.
What If My Boss Is Intentionally Causing Me Emotional Distress?
If your employer is intentionally causing you distress, meaning he or she intends to cause you harm, you may be able to bring forth an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim (IIED). In fact, in Light v. California Department of Parks and Recreation, the Court held that an employee can bring forth an IIED claim against their supervisor and hold the individual liable for damages outside of compensatory damages. In order to be successful on an IIED claim, the employee must show that
- That there was intentional or reckless behavior by a fellow employee, supervisor, or agent
- The behavior was “extreme and outrageous”
- The behavior caused the employee who is bringing the claim severe emotional distress
- The employer caused the emotional distress. However, in the case that a co-worker is causing the distress, the employer must have been responsible for the co-worker who caused the emotional distress.