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Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress by Employers

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What Is Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress?

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) is a type of tort that causes some kind of act or conduct that is so terrible that it causes the other person emotional distress or trauma. When this happens, the victim who suffered IIED can recover compensatory damages and punitive damages from the person who caused the emotional distress. Not all conduct qualifies as a intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Sometimes a victim suffers IIED in the workplace because of an employer's intentional conduct causing the employee severe emotional distress.

How Do I Prove Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress by my Employer?

In order to bring an action against your employer for intentional infliction of emotional distress, you must allege and prove the following: 

  • Intentional or reckless conduct by a co-worker
  • The conduct was extreme and outrageous
  • The conduct caused you severe emotional distress
  • The employer was responsible for that co-worker's conduct

Note, however, that there is no requirement of an actual bodily injury to accompany a victim’s emotional distress. It is enough to prove that a victim suffered severe emotional distress as a result of outrageous conduct.

What Does "Extreme and Outrageous Conduct" Mean? 

"Extreme and outrageous conduct" means conduct that goes beyond all possible bounds of decency and is regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society. If courts in your state accept this definition, the standard is that of a reasonable prudent person. In other words, the co-worker’s or employer’s conduct must be outrageous to an average reasonable person.

The following may NOT likely be considered an outrageous conduct:

  • Termination of employment in and of itself
  • Employer’s or co-worker’s annoying bad habits
  • Employer’s or co-worker’s insulting language
  • Employer or co-worker disrespecting you
  • Employer or co-worker hurting your feelings

However, here are two factors that may make it easier to prove such outrageous conduct at work:

  • The relationship between the wrongdoing co-worker and the injured employee allowed the wrongdoer to cause harm to the injured employee; and 
  • The wrongdoing co-worker had knowledge that the injured employee had been particularly susceptible to emotional distress. 

How Do I Prove That I Have Suffered Severe Emotional Distress?

All courts require that the injured employee's emotional distress be "severe" before he/she can bring a lawsuit. "Severe" means so intense that no reasonable person could be expected to endure it. Generally, the best way to prove that you have suffered severe emotional distress is by showing some physical symptoms of emotional distress. They may include: 

  • High blood pressure
  • Disturbance to the nervous systems
  • Nausea
  • General physical illness
  • Depression
  • Insomnia

While not all courts require that the injured employee exhibit physical symptoms of emotional distress in order to bring a suit, the case will be much stronger if the symptoms are present.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress vs. Workers’ Compensation

A claim for workers’ compensation may prevent you from filing an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. However, workers’ compensation will not affect your emotional distress claim if:

  • Your employer engaged in extreme conduct that does not usually take place in the workplace (i.e., employer visited your residence and insulted you)
  • Your employer’s behavior went against public policy (i.e., sexual harassment at work)
  • Your emotional distress was caused by assault or battery by your employer

When Is an Employer Responsible for a Co-Worker's Conduct?

Employee may support his claim that the employer is responsible for the co-worker's conduct by showing the following facts:

  • The co-worker acted within the course and scope of his/her employment and in furtherance of the employer's business;
  • The employer failed to address complaints filed by the injured employee against co-worker's outrageous conduct; and
  • The co-worker held a very important position in the employer's business such that his/her actions may be attributable to the employer. 

The determination of the employer's responsibility is a factual issue that depends on the facts and circumstances of each case as well as the state laws.

Do I Need a Personal Injury Attorney?

If you or a loved one has been injured by the intentional or negligent acts of another, you should speak to an attorney immediately to learn more about protecting your rights. A personal injury lawyer or employment discrimination lawyer will be able to explain the value of your case and help you navigate through the complicated legal process. Most lawyers who handle these types of personal injury matters work on a contingency basis. 

Photo of page author Kourosh Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 11-16-2017 09:35 PM PST

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