Can I sue my employer for stress and anxiety in California?

Dec 17, 2019

According to the American Institute of Stress, 80% of workers reported feeling stress on the job and 40% of workers said their job is “very or extremely stressful.” 75% of workers indicated their belief that workers now have more on-the-job stress than a generation ago.

Many of us feel stressed at or about work, but if that stress builds to the point where you are having issues with anxiety, depression, alcoholism, or have even turned to drugs, then your employer may be putting you under emotional distress.

What is emotional distress?


Emotional distress is an increasingly popular basis for a claim of damages in lawsuits for injury due to the negligence or intentional acts of another. Originally damages for emotional distress were only awardable in conjunction with damages for actual physical harm. Recently courts in many states, including New York and California, have recognized a right to an award of money damages for emotional distress without physical injury or contact. In sexual harassment claims, emotional distress can be the major, or even only, harmful result. In most jurisdictions, emotional distress cannot be claimed for breach of contract or other business activity, but can be alleged in cases of libel and slander. Evidentiary problems include the fact that such distress is easily feigned or exaggerated, and professional testimony by a therapist or psychiatrist may be required to validate the existence and depth of the distress and place a dollar value upon it.

What to do if you are experiencing emotional distress at work

If you are experiencing emotional distress at work, you may be able to bring a claim either against a coworker or your employer.

Before filing suit, you should understand the two forms of emotional distress recognized by the law. Emotional distress is either negligently or intentionally inflicted.

In a negligent infliction of emotional distress case, you must show negligent conduct, that emotional distress was suffered, and that the negligent conduct was the cause of the emotional distress.

If your case is one of intentionally inflicted emotional distress (IIED), you bear the additional burden of proving your employer acted extremely or outrageously. It’s difficult to prove this as there is no clear legal definition, although courts have deemed that it needs to be more than just “mere insults, indignities, threats, or annoyances.”

Can you sue your employer in California for emotional distress?

If you suffered emotional distress due to work, your employer can be held responsible under certain circumstances.

Your employer may be held legally responsible for an employee’s conduct when the conduct that caused the emotional distress was within the scope of that employee’s job. For example, a retail employee may be told to watch for shoplifters. If the employer wrongfully accuses a coworker (or anyone) of shoplifting, the employer can be held liable.

Employers are found liable for an employee’s actions through the process of “ratification,” which requires proof of the following facts:

  • 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.
  • In workplace claims, emotional distress is often alleged along with other harmful conduct such as sexual harassment. For example, an employer can be held responsible for IIED after failing to respond to numerous complaints, over a period of months, that alleged sexual harassment by a manager.

Suing employer for emotional distress? Get Professional Help!

Emotional distress cases are very fact-intensive claims that are difficult to prove as the harm caused is not easily visible the way other workplace injuries often are. Nonetheless, workplace stress and anxiety can be extremely harmful to your health and interfere with your life.

If you are suffering from emotional distress caused by a coworker or employer and are considering suing your employer for emotional distress, you may wish to seek professional legal advice. The California employment attorneys at Rastegar Law Group can help you to better understand the laws concerning your emotional distress at work and can advise you as to whether you should pursue a legal claim.

Contact us today for a free and confidential consultation. We work on a contingency basis, meaning we charge no fee until and unless we recover for you. You can contact us online or call us at (310) 961-9600.

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