Each year thousands of lawsuits are brought against employers by their employees across the country. There are a plethora of laws currently on the books that aim at protecting employees from their employers, and give employees grounds for suit if the laws are violated. While many of these lawsuits never make the news, they happen each and everyday. For example, in 2013 Walmart was the defendant in 5,000 employee lawsuits, alone. That is about 17 lawsuits a day. The company currently employs about 1.3 million workers.
So Can I Sue My Employer?
Employees can sue their employers for many reasons. While most people are aware they can sue over negligence, injury and sexual harassment, many people wonder “can I sue my employer for stress?” There isn’t exactly a simply answer to the question, the answer is actually yes, because, technically you can bring a suit against an employer for an injury that occurs during the working hours, but winning such lawsuits is another story all together.
Under federal and state laws employees are protected from undue stress, harassment and unsafe working environments. That means an employer must provide all employees with a workplace that is physically and emotionally safe. They must meet basic workplace standards, and must have a policy pertaining to harassment and other negative workplace cultures that could cause undue emotional stress for their employees. Additionally, workplace laws require that employers ensure harassment, both sexual and otherwise, is dealt with appropriately and swiftly. That is not to say that all employers follow the laws to the letter, but the laws due exist to protect employees.
Additionally, the Fair Employment and Housing Act protects individuals from harassment and unfair treatment based on their age (over the age of 40), race, religious beliefs, military and veteran status, martial status, gender, and sexual orientation. The FEHA makes it illegal for an employee to be singled out and treated inappropriately because of any of the above listed protected attributes. .
While there is no law that specifically states that an employer can not cause emotional distress, emotional stress would generally be considered an injury if it can be proven to be directly due to the workplace environment, or if an employee can prove they have been harassed or singled out as a member of a protected groups.
In most lawsuits alleging the infliction of emotional stress, the plaintiff has attempted to prove the employer intentionally attempted to inflict emotional stress upon the victim. In all of such cases courts will require that the stress and resulting injury from the stress be severe. For example, an individual claiming emotional stress from their job would need to prove they have required medical intervention because of the stress or that a medical condition is directly attributed to the stress they suffered at the hands of the employer.
Most courts will require the plaintiff to prove that the actions of their employer was intentional or reckless, that the conduct was extreme and outrageous, severe emotional distress was caused by an ongoing situation, and that the employer failed to fix the issue after a formal complain was filed within the company.
So, in short, yes, an employee can file suit against an employer for stress the have endured on the job, but winning can be an uphill battle. In most cases, emotional distress is an outcome of another violation of either FEHA or workplaces laws, not the sole reason an employment lawsuit is brought about.