can i sue my employer for emotional distress

In today’s work environment, employees may face various stressors, from deadlines to interpersonal conflicts. However, when the stress transcends into emotional distress due to harassment, discrimination, or other harmful actions by an employer, legal recourse might be an option.


This blog will explore whether it is possible to sue an employer for mental harassment at the workplace, focusing on California’s legal landscape.



Understanding Emotional Distress

Emotional distress refers to mental anguish or suffering caused by stressful conditions. It encompasses a range of symptoms, including anxiety, depression, and other psychological impacts that might arise from harassment or hostile work conditions.


The legal recognition of emotional distress as a harm deserving of compensation highlights its seriousness.


Are you experiencing extreme stress and anxiety emotionally due to your work? Signs may include:  difficulty sleeping, changes in eating habits, panic attacks, irritability and anger issues.

Sue for Emotional Distress: Types of Claims

Can i sue my employer for emotional distress? In California, employees can bring claims for emotional distress under two main categories:

  • Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED)
  • Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED)

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) involves actions that are outrageous and intended to cause emotional harm. For instance, if an employer repeatedly subjects an employee to verbal abuse, threats, or discriminatory practices, these actions may form the basis of an IIED claim. To succeed in an IIED claim, you must prove:

  • The conduct was outrageous.
  • The conduct was intentional or reckless.
  • The conduct caused severe stress and anxiety.

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED) occurs when an employer’s conduct and negligent behavior results in emotional stress. Unlike IIED, NIED does not require the conduct to be outrageous or intentional, but you must show:

  • The employer owed you a duty of care.
  • The employer breached this duty.
  • The breach caused emotional distress.

Recognizing Mental Harassment at the Workplace

Emotional damage at work is a significant issue that can lead to severe mental suffering. This includes actions such as:

  • Verbal Abuse: Consistent yelling, insults, or derogatory comments.
  • Bullying: Persistent and targeted actions intended to demean or belittle.
  • Discrimination: Unfair treatment based on race, gender, age, or other protected characteristics.
  • Retaliation: Negative actions taken against an employee for filing a complaint or reporting misconduct.

California has strong laws protecting employees from mental harassment at the workplace. The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits harassment based on protected characteristics and provides a basis for legal claims against employers who allow such behavior to persist.

So Can I Sue My Employer for Emotional Distress?

Yes, under certain conditions, you can sue your employer for emotional stress and anxiety in California. To pursue an emotional distress case, you must demonstrate that the emotional distress damages resulted from actions that are either wrongful or negligent and that these actions meet the legal thresholds discussed earlier.

Steps to Take if You Are Experiencing Emotional Distress

  1. Document Everything: Keep detailed records of incidents, including dates, times, what happened, and any witnesses.
  2. Report the Behavior: Inform your HR department or supervisor about the harassment. This step is crucial for building your case.
  3. Seek Medical Help: Visit a mental health professional to document the impact of the distress on your well-being.
  4. Consult a Lawyer: Can i sue my employer for emotional distress? An attorney knowledgeable in California employment law can help you understand your rights and guide you through the legal process.


What to Expect When Filing a Lawsuit

The steps to sue for emotional distress include:

  1. Filing a Complaint: Your attorney will file a complaint with the appropriate court, outlining your claims and the relief sought.
  2. Discovery Process: Both parties exchange information and evidence related to the case.
  3. Settlement Negotiations: Many cases are settled out of court through negotiations.
  4. Trial: If a settlement is not reached, the case proceeds to trial, where a judge or jury will determine the outcome.

The Role of Evidence in an Emotional Distress Lawsuit

Evidence is critical in proving mental harassment at the workplace and emotional distress claims. This can include:

  • Medical Records: Documentation from therapists or doctors showing the psychological impact of the harassment.
  • Witness Statements: Testimonies from coworkers who witnessed the harassment.
  • Communication Records: Emails, messages, or recordings that illustrate the harassment or employer’s negligence.

Compensation for Emotional Distress

If your claim is successful, you may be entitled to compensation for:

  • Medical Expenses: Costs associated with mental distress treatment.
  • Lost Wages: Income lost due to inability to work.
  • Pain and Suffering: Monetary compensation for the emotional impact.

File an Emotional Distress Claim and Sue Your Employer for Damages. Get Help From Our Experienced Employment Lawyers.

Emotional distress caused by mental harassment at the workplace is a serious issue that California law recognizes and protects against.


If you find yourself asking, “Can I sue my employer for emotional distress?” The answer is yes, under the right circumstances. Document your experiences, seek professional help, and consult with an attorney to explore your options.


The employment and labor lawyers at RTM Law Firm are here to help. Contact us for a confidential consultation and take the first step toward protecting your rights and well-being.




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