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Can I Sue My Employer For Emotional Distress?

Can I Sue My Employer for Emotional Distress?

Several laws state that all employers should provide a safe working environment. Thus, if your workplace causes psychological harm, you have the right to sue for damages.

The impacts of emotional distress seep into every aspect of an employee’s life. Distress can reduce performance and cause anxiety and depression. Long-term distress may also cause physical health problems. Anyone responsible for causing such harm should be held accountable.

The article below is a brief guide on suing your employer for emotional distress. However, since suing for emotional distress is a complicated process, it may be helpful to seek legal help from experienced professionals.

Don’t let the question, “Can I sue my employer for emotional distress?” worry you. You can sue your employer for emotional distress.

What Is Emotional Distress?

Boss yelling at female employee while she holds her head.

Emotional distress is mental suffering caused by poor work experiences. Some symptoms include hopelessness, sadness, and anxiety. Emotional distress can also cause headaches, insomnia, and panic attacks. These symptoms become more intense when an individual encounters stressors.

Workplace emotional distress develops when employees face stressful situations at work. Common sources of such stress include poor coworker relationships, negative feedback, and discrimination. Employees that receive negative feedback and heavy workloads may also develop emotional distress.

Types of Emotional Distress

No two stressors are the same. Thus, emotional stress comes in different forms. The law defines the forms according to their effects and their sources. 

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED)

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress occurs when an employer is negligent. Most companies adhere to laws that dictate the employer’s role. If an employer refuses to abide by these laws, they are responsible for any damages you may incur. 

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED)

This distress occurs when an employer’s behavior causes emotional harm. The action must be deliberate, extreme, and harmful to anyone exposed. Examples of such actions include discrimination and harassment.

When Can I Sue My Employer for Emotional Distress?

Person holding a paper that says "lawsuit".

You can only sue your employer for emotional distress if their actions or negligence cause psychological harm. However, the causes of your mental distress should only stem from your workplace. But if an employer is aware of actions that cause distress outside the workplace, such as harassment, they can still be held liable.

Additionally, your negative reactions must be strong enough to sue for emotional distress. For instance, you cannot sue for emotional distress if a coworker makes a comment that hurts your feelings. Occurrences such as sexual harassment, which elicit intense emotional reactions, make strong cases.

You should also strike when the iron is hot, as emotional distress claims have statutes of limitations. The period varies across states but can be as short as a year. Thus, as soon as you file a claim, look into the statute of limitations. You may need to file within that window if your claim is to be considered.

How To Successfully Prove an Emotional Distress Claim

To have a successful emotional distress claim, you need concrete proof that your mental health has been affected by work-related events. The lawsuit is sometimes challenging to prove as emotional harm is not always tangible. However, with an understanding of emotional distress, you have a greater chance of filing a successful claim.

Proving a Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED) Claim

When suing for negligence, you must prove your employer failed to take preventative action. The law also considers the deliberate violation of policies as negligence. Your claim will only be successful if you prove that these events caused severe mental anguish. 

It is also common for employees who witnessed the impact of negligent action to file an NIED claim. For instance, if you saw an accident where a coworker was grievously harmed due to a safety violation, you can sue for damages. This defense is protected under the bystander law. Affected parties must prove they were close enough to be harmed but somehow survived.

Proving an Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) Claim

A successful IIED claim must show that an employer’s behavior was deliberately malicious. Their actions must also be excessive and beyond normal conduct. You must also prove that the resulting anguish was severe.

Harassment by a coworker is also grounds for a valid IIED claim, but the employer is only liable if you made a report and they ignored the problem. If you can provide records of the report and the coworker’s behavior, you stand a better chance of winning your suit.

If a close friend or loved one has been targeted or harassed, you can file an IIED claim. But, you should check if this defense is applicable in your state as it is prohibited in some areas. You would also need to provide convincing proof of your anguish.

Providing Emotional Distress Evidence

The need to present evidence of emotional distress varies across states. In some cases, an exam by a therapist is enough to show emotional distress. However, other states need physical proof, such as insomnia and loss of appetite. Diagnosis of PTSD, depression, or anxiety strengthens your emotional distress claims. Your lawsuit is thus more likely to succeed.

Damages Available When You Sue for Emotional Distress

Gavel and a stack of coins

The compensation you receive from an emotional distress case depends on the damage you’ve suffered. If the damage done is permanent, the compensation might be substantial. The amount of harassment, work missed, or any medical bills incurred also determines the amount you may receive. High-profile cases decided by juries may get greater compensation. 

In Need of an Emotional Distress Lawyer?

Work is generally stressful, but it should not cause unmanageable mental distress. Emotional distress can cause significant damage to your mental and physical health. Thus, you’re entitled to file a claim that will hold your employer responsible. Hopefully, the above article has given you enough information to take the first steps. 

If you are still wondering, “can I sue my employer for emotional distress?”, consider contacting our team here at The Howley Law Firm. Our team of experienced lawyers will guide you through complex employment laws and help prepare a successful suit.


Yes, you can sue for emotional distress even if you are still employed by your employer. The key to pursuing a successful lawsuit is to demonstrate that your employer’s actions were reckless or intentional and that their behavior resulted in emotional distress to you. If your employer’s actions did not rise to this level, then the lawsuit may not be successful.

The amount of compensation that you could receive from suing your employer for emotional distress depends on several factors, such as the severity of the harm caused, any medical bills or lost wages, and the amount of emotional distress suffered. Generally, compensation awards for emotional distress range from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the specific situation.

Proving that your employer caused your emotional distress can be difficult and may require the assistance of an experienced attorney. Evidence that may be used to prove your case could include witness testimony, documentation of the employer’s actions, and medical records showing the extent of your emotional distress.

To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a whistleblower lawyer, call John Howley, Esq. at (212) 601-2728.
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