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Suing an Employer for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

Employers can have powerful influence over their employees’ mental health. Job-related stress, whether from management pressure or other factors, is a common problem. Personality conflicts, disagreements over job responsibilities, and unreasonable demands are an ordinary part of work. But sometimes an employer’s behavior edges into abuse. In extreme cases, the employee may be able to sue the employer for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

When thinking about wrongful behavior by an employer it’s worthwhile to keep in mind that “the employer” is not just the owner of the company or the employee’s direct manager, but can mean any agent of the business. An employer can be held responsible for actions taken by any of its employees during working hours provided that the employer is aware of the employee’s wrongful behavior.

Nevada law requires plaintiffs who sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress to prove four things:

  1. The defendant’s conduct must have been extreme and outrageous. The sort of behavior that meets this standard can be the focus of court arguments. Whether the employer’s behavior was “extreme and outrageous” is determined according to the context of the behavior and the social norms surrounding it. Proving that the behavior happened can be a critical factor—having coworkers available to corroborate the plaintiff’s story can be very helpful.
  2. The defendant intended to cause the plaintiff’s emotional distress, or recklessly disregarded the harm being done to the plaintiff. It isn’t enough that a manager is harsh or rude in general. There are two paths to recovery: either the manager must have wanted the employee to suffer, or the manager ignored signs that the employee was suffering and continued a bad behavior.
  3. The plaintiff actually suffered extreme or severe emotional distress. Proving actual injury is a basic requirement for recovering damages in litigation. There are numerous ways to prove emotional harm, including testimony from psychiatric professionals, family and friends who have observed the plaintiff’s suffering, or testimony from coworkers as to how the employer’s actions affected the plaintiff.
  4. The defendant’s conduct caused the plaintiff’s distress. A common tactic used by defendants is to look for alternative causes of the plaintiff’s emotional injury. For example, if the plaintiff has a mental health condition such as clinical depression that is unrelated to work, it may be difficult to show that the employer’s actions were solely responsible for the plaintiff’s injury.

Miller v. Jones, 114 Nev. 1291, 1299-1300 (1998).

Generally speaking, the more outrageous the employer’s behavior, the more likely the plaintiff will be able to recover damages. Bad behavior can be systematic and repetitive: for example, a manager who mocks an employee’s appearance day after day and doesn’t stop after the bullying visibly affects the employee. A single incident can also be outrageous. For example, an HR manager who announces embarrassing details of an employee’s criminal background check at a work lunch may be engaging in bad behavior that meets the standard, provided the other elements are present.

For more than 45 years the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has represented injured clients in the Las Vegas area. If you have endured severe emotional harassment at work, call us today for a free attorney consultation at 702-388-4476 or reach us through our contact page.