Can I Sue My Employer for Emotional Distress?

can i sue my employer for emotional distress

Have you ever wanted to sue someone at work?

In an ideal world, we would get along perfectly well with all of our coworkers all the time, but that isn’t always feasible. When you’re dealing with a coworker’s outrageous behavior, it can negatively affect your work performance and overall morale. If your manager isn’t taking you seriously, you may be wondering if there is anywhere else you can turn.

Here’s the good news: in the state of Louisiana, you can turn to the courts.

If you are experiencing intentional or negligent emotional distress at work, you could potentially have the ability to bring a personal injury claim against your employer to recover damages. However, the area of this law is especially complex and requires an experienced and thorough personal injury attorney if you are considering suing your employer for emotional distress.

Suing Employer for Emotional Distress: Proving Your Claim

Before you file a lawsuit, it’s important to understand the two types of emotional distress that the law recognizes. 

Emotional distress is either negligently or intentionally inflicted in the eyes of the law. The difference is based on the state of mind of the entity inflicting the harmful act; in this case, that would be the employer. 

Each form of emotional distress requires proof that certain things did or did not occur. Here is a basic breakdown of each form of emotional distress:

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED)

If you suffer from emotional distress caused by someone’s negligent conduct, you may be able to recover damages for NIED.

A successful claim of this type will prove the following:

  • Defendant (the employer) engaged in negligent conduct or a willful violation of a statutory duty
  • Plaintiff suffered serious emotional distress 
  • Defendant’s negligent conduct or willful violation of statutory standards was a cause of the serious emotional distress

So, in a nutshell: you have to prove that your employer had a legal duty to use reasonable care to avoid causing you emotional distress. You must also prove that they ignored this duty to use reasonable care, and that it caused you significant emotional distress.

This type of claim can be brought by the person harmed by the negligent conduct, or by any bystanders who witnessed it. 

For example: if there is a poorly-maintained piece of equipment at your workplace and you get hurt while using it, you can sue your employer for emotional distress.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED)

This type of emotional distress is sometimes called the “tort of outrage” because it is based on extreme or outrageous behavior.

Courts will generally require proof of four elements for an IIED claim to be successful:

  • The employer or his agent acted intentionally or recklessly
  • The employer or agent’s conduct was extreme and outrageous
  • The employer or agent’s caused the employee mental distress
  • The emotional distress was severe 

The operational definition of extreme or outrageous behavior is ever-changing, so IIED can be difficult to prove when you are suing your employer for emotional distress. The behavior must be a bit more than insults, threats, or annoyances, even if you feel those insults and annoyances are extreme or outrageous.

For instance, if your employer were to obtain an old mugshot of you and show it to your coworkers, that does not necessarily constitute outrageous behavior. 

On the other hand, the courts do not require an extreme response from the plaintiff to prove emotional distress. Anything that a reasonable person would be unable to cope with is considered to be extreme or outrageous can qualify as emotional distress, whether or not the plaintiff themselves managed to cope.

Suing Employer for Emotional Distress: Acts of an Employee

The law will hold employers responsible for the actions of their employees when the conduct that caused the emotional distress is within the scope of the employee’s job or if the employer consented to the conduct. 

For example, if the security staff of a store wrongfully accuses a shopper of theft over the intercom, the employer can be held responsible for the actions of that employee. 

Employers are found liable for employees’ actions through a process legally known as ratification. Proof of the following facts is usually required when suing an employer for emotional distress over the acts of an employee:

  • The employer had actual knowledge of the specific conduct
  • The employer knew the conduct was harmful
  • The employer failed to take adequate steps to remedy the situation 

For the most part, between two coworkers in the workplace, emotional distress is usually paired with other harmful conduct such as sexual harassment. For example, an employer can be held accountable for their employees’ actions, and also be held responsible for IIED, if they ignore multiple complaints from an employee of sexual harassment from a manager. 

Suing Employer for Emotional Distress: Damages 

Can you put a price on emotional distress?

Generally, the damages awarded when suing an employer for emotional distress, whether it be IIED or NIED, will be proportional to the distress that was inflicted. 

Factors that influence the amount of damages that will be awarded include:

  • How outrageous the behavior was (or lack there of)
  • The amount of harm you suffered
  • Whether the emotional distress is ongoing 

These are matters to be determined by a judge, or by a jury, should your case go to trial. 

Need to Sue Your Employer for Emotional Distress? Gordon and Gordon Can Help.

Suing an employer for emotional distress, whether the employer is your employer or not, is an extremely complex area of the law. 

No matter the circumstances, proving emotional distress is very fact centered and also very difficult to prove, as its effects are not always visible as they would be with physical injury. It’s easy to prove you have a broken arm: proving you’ve suffered emotionally is more difficult. However, emotional distress caused by an employer is a real injury, and those who have suffered it deserve to be compensated. 

If you have suffered emotional distress at the hands of your employer, please contact Gordon & Gordon law firm at 318-617-HELP to discuss your case.