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Can You Sue an Employer for Emotional Distress?

For numerous people, stress in their workplace is a simple matter which can’t be avoided. No matter it is due to your overbearing boss, dreadful co-workers, or simply, gruelling hours, everyone needs to handle some kinds of unsavoury business at work. Nonetheless, though routine stress is normal, yet it is not fine when an unhealthy working atmosphere results in mental conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or insomnia. At any point in time, a job can turn threatening to your physical or mental health, so, it is vital to take a step backward and access your available options for easing this issue. In this real world, an employer ought to have the internal processes for addressing the problems which are causing you emotional problems. When it is an abusive manager, then the HR department has every right to launch an investigation, legalize your complaint, and find out remedies to your problems with a rebuke, transfer, or termination. When the problem happens because of your co-workers, then there ought to be a similar procedure with the same results. Unluckily, people don’t live in a flawless world where the appropriate scenario always plays out justly.

Can You Sue an Employer for Emotional Distress?

When you are going through emotional distress because of the negligence or outrageous deliberate acts of other people at work, you might be able to fetch a personal injury claim for recovering damages. Here, the law is complex, prior to your filing a lawsuit, it is vital to get an understanding of a couple of forms of emotional distress identified by the law.

Can You Sue Employer for Emotional Distress?

An employer can be made lawfully liable for the actions of an employee when the conduct which caused the emotional distress happened to be within the sphere of the employee’s job or when the employer agreed to the conduct. For instance, the possibility of employment claims happens when the security staffs of a store accuses a shopper of robbery wrongfully by name over a packed store’s intercom. Commonly, employers are held responsible for an employee’s actions via a process which is lawfully recognized as ratification. Though each state follows its individual law that defines ratification, yet proof of the below-mentioned facts are habitually needed:

  • The employer had knowledge regarding the particular conduct
  • The employer was aware that the conduct was dangerous
  • The employer couldn’t take effective steps for finding out the solution to the problem.

Verifying an Emotional Distress Claim

Emotional distress is either intentionally or negligently inflicted. The difference gets apparent based on the company’s state or mind or person liable to perform the dangerous act. Every form of emotional distress needs proof that some acts did and some acts didn’t happen. Some basics are mentioned below:

NIED (Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress)

When you suffer from an emotional distress caused by some other person’s negligent conduct, then you might be able to recuperate for NIED. Commonly, a successful claim will verify elements like:

  • Defendant involved in a wilful violation or a negligent conduct of a statutory duty
  • Defendant’s wilful violation or negligent conduct of statutory standards was a reason for the severe emotional distress
  • Plaintiff suffered severe emotional distress.

The fundamental principle is that the accused has got a legal duty to make use of reasonable care to avert causing emotional distress to the other person. A claim for NIED can be made by the person who has been harmed by the negligent act and some bystanders witnessed the accident but weren’t physically affected by it. In the workplace, you have every right to bring one claim for NIED if you were nearly crushed by, for example, badly maintained equipment. Nonetheless, your claim could turn out to be unsuccessful if you witnessed a co-worker being crushed and you weren’t near the place of danger. If you weren’t in a harm’s way, the occurrence ought to involve a close family relative.

IIED (Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress)

At times, IIED is acknowledged as the ‘tort of outrage’ as it is grounded on outrageous or extreme behavior which is recklessly or intentionally performed. The majority of the courts need proof of four realistic components for an emotional distress claim for becoming successful and they are:

  • The employer or his agent performed recklessly or intentionally
  • The employer or his agent’s conduct was outrageous and extreme
  • The emotional distress was serious
  • The employer or his agent’s actions happened because of the mental distress of the employee.

However, it is tough to prove this type of claim as there aren’t clear guidelines on the outrageous and extreme conduct. Nonetheless, it ought to be more than simple indignities, annoyances, threats, or insults. Numerous unpleasant emotions, like fright, embarrassment, and shame do qualify in the form of emotional distress. Again, the courts do not hunt for a dangerous response. It is found where the situations would cause a sensible person to be incapable of coping with mental distress.

In the workplace claims, the problem of emotional distress is habitually alleged besides other dangerous conduct, like sexual harassment. For instance, an employer can be held liable for IIED after waning to respond to different complaints over some months which suspected sexual harassment by the manager.


Commonly, payment for damages, like NIED or IIED claim is relational to the severity of the emotional injury. It is a decision for the jury when your claim goes to a hearing. Factors that influence damages comprise the outrageousness of the behavior of the defendant, the harm you suffered and whether or not the emotional distress is going on. Emotional distress is considered a fact-intensive claim which is tough to prove because of the absence of visible harm, like a broken arm; however, it is a genuine injury which can disrupt your life seriously. When you have gone through emotional distress, then you might wish to have a consultation with a skilled personal injury attorney. The local attorneys can aid you in understanding the law prevalent in your state about emotional distress at your workplace.


  1. The Balance Careers: “Can You Sue Your Employer for Emotional Distress?” by Jean Murray, The Balance Careers Link: https://www.thebalancecareers.com/can-you-sue-your-employer-for-emotional-distress-2060724

  2. Justia: “Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress” by Christopher Coble, Justia US Law Link: https://www.justia.com/injury/intentional-infliction-emotional-distress/

  3. LegalMatch: “Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress” by Ken LaMance, LegalMatch Law Library Link: https://www.legalmatch.com/law-library/article/negligent-infliction-of-emotional-distress.html

  4. Lawyers.com: “Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress in the Workplace” by Patricia Dzikowski, Lawyers.com Link: https://www.lawyers.com/legal-info/labor-employment-law/harassment-discrimination/intentional-infliction-of-emotional-distress-in-the-workplace.html

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 28, 2023

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