In most circumstances, workers’ compensation laws protect your employer from a lawsuit based on workplace injuries.

If you are hurt at work, regardless of who was at fault, you typically must go through the workers’ compensation system. Workers’ comp claims pay for medical bills, lost wages and disability benefits but not for pain and suffering or emotional distress.

However, there are other legal grounds besides a work injury that may give rise to a claim against your employer as a result of emotional damage.

Can You Sue Your Employer for Emotional Distress?

To sue your employer for mental harm, you must be able to prove that there is some legal justification for holding the company accountable.

Since companies don’t usually cause emotional distress, but those who work for them do, you can base your claim on vicarious liability laws. These laws make employers responsible for the misconduct of workers when they are performing official duties.

For example, if your supervisor engages in unsafe, inappropriate or discriminatory behavior, this could be a situation where your employer is liable for the misconduct. Likewise, if coworkers create a hostile work environment and the company doesn’t take appropriate actions to protect you, this can give rise to a claim against the business.

Here are some examples of arguments you could make to justify a claim.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

If your employer intentionally acts in a manner that causes you severe stress or acts with reckless disregard to the fact their conduct will cause severe distress, you may be able to make a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

This type of claim requires you to prove extreme and outrageous conduct on the part of your employer. It must rise beyond the level of simple annoyance. If your boss repeatedly makes credible threats that they will kill your family if you ever quit your job or don’t perform up to par, this might be an example of a situation where you could sue for this tort.

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

Companies and their employees are expected to behave with the same level of care a hypothetical reasonable person would exhibit in the situation. If they fall short, they can be held responsible for the consequences, including emotional damage.

If you can prove that your employer was unreasonably negligent or violated a legal obligation to you (such as a statutory duty to create a safe work environment), you may be able to pursue a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress.

An example is if you witnessed a poorly maintained machine kill a coworker who was standing right next to you, and the machine almost killed you as well. In some states, you must be in the “zone of danger” for this type of situation to give rise to a claim, while in others, it’s enough to be a bystander when something terrible happens due to the company’s negligence.

Hostile Work Environment

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects you against discrimination at work based on race, religion, color, national origin and sex.

If you are denied work opportunities due to discrimination or if your coworkers make your work environment unpleasant based on protected status (such as sex, race, national origin, age, disability or pregnancy) and the harassment you experience is severe and pervasive, the company can be held accountable if they knew or should have known about the behavior and failed to stop it.

When you make a hostile work environment claim, you can sue for actual losses such as lost income as well as for mental anguish you suffer due to the wrongful behavior directed towards you.

Categorized in:

personal injury,

Last Update: June 21, 2024

Tagged in:

, , ,