Can I File a Lawsuit Against My Employer For Emotional Distress?

Suing For Emotional Distress At Work: Everything You Need To Know

For most people, workplace stress is unavoidable. Whether the cause is an overly demanding boss, long hours, or spiteful coworkers, most people have to deal with some workplace challenges. Although some amount of stress is normal, a work environment should not be so unhealthy that it leads to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, or physical conditions such as insomnia. Whenever a job threatens your health, it’s time to take a step back and re-evaluate.

Ideally, an employer will have established procedures to address challenges that cause emotional distress. For example, if a manager is abusive or demeaning, the HR department should investigate and ultimately reprimand, terminate, or transfer the manager. But the real world isn’t ideal, and sometimes employees suffer mental anguish resulting from a hostile work environment that is mishandled by upper management. 

In these situations, it’s best to consult with an Scottsdale business attorney to help evaluate your options. Depending on the circumstances, your attorney can recommend several solutions, one of which may be to file a lawsuit against the employer. Although emotional distress cases are complex and can be difficult to prove in court, they offer the opportunity to receive financial damages to compensate for your pain and suffering.

Suing For Emotional Distress At Work: Everything You Need To Know in Arizona

What Is Emotional Distress?

Emotional distress is a state of mental suffering that directly results from an extreme situation. In order for an emotional distress case to be successful in court, your Arizona business attorney must be able to prove that your distress was severe enough that no one could reasonably be expected to endure those circumstances. 

How Can Emotional Distress Be Proven In Court?

It’s easier to prove an emotional distress case when it’s accompanied by physical injuries, which are easier to see and quantify, but physical injuries aren’t necessary and of course should never be inflicted to promote your case. In many situations, a medical professional can testify that you have a severe case of depression, anxiety, panic attacks, or other mental health condition. Embarrassment, fear, or shame can also contribute to your court case. 

Your attorney will need to differentiate between negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, which is based on your employer’s state of mind before and during the stressful situations. Each type of infliction carries a different burden of proof.

A negligent infliction case requires proof that your employer had a legal duty to provide reasonable care and failed to do so. Your Arizona trademark attorney will need to prove that:

  • The defendant (your employer) engaged in a willful or negligent violation of duty
  • That you suffered mental anguish
  • That your emotional distress was directly caused by the defendant’s violation of duty

Cases of intentional infliction of emotional distress require proof of four important elements:

  • That the employer acted intentionally or recklessly
  • That the defendant’s conduct was outrageous and extreme
  • That those outrageous and extreme actions directly caused your emotional distress
  • That your emotional stress resulting from the actions in question is severe

Because there are no clear guidelines on what constitutes outrageous or extreme behavior, it can be difficult to prove, so you’ll want to work with an experienced Arizona intellectual property lawyer. Annoyances, indignities, insults, and similar behavior usually do not qualify, but daily malicious harassment that created a hostile work environment in which you could not do your job, may qualify.

When Is An Employer Liable?

State and federal law dictate that an employer is legally responsible for the actions of an employee when those activities are within the scope of the employee’s job. However, if the employer was aware of and consented to the employee’s activity, it doesn’t matter if the activity was within their scope of work.

To prove your case successfully, your attorney will need to prove that: 

  • The employer was directly aware of the conduct,
  • The employer knew that the conduct was harmful, and
  • The employer failed to take steps to fix the situation

What Damages Are Awarded For Emotional Distress?

It’s extremely difficult to quantify damages for emotional distress, which is another reason why you want to work with a skilled Arizona business attorney who can successfully litigate your case. The court will need to consider the potential long-term costs that you’ll incur as well as your current suffering. Generally, the damages that are awarded are proportionate to the severity of the emotional distress. The judge will consider the extent of the harm, how extreme and outrageous the conduct was, and how likely it is that you will continue to experience distress as a result of the situation. The damages that are ultimately awarded will be different for each case. 

Are You Looking For Help With An Employment Issue?

Get legal advice from Denton Peterson Dunn, a top-rated Arizona law firm whose lawyers have been serving the Phoenix area since 1995. Our team brings experience, extensive understanding of Arizona business law, and personalized service to every case. Let our team of attorneys help settle your employment case. Schedule a strategy session to get started.


Brad Denton, Business Lawyer
 – Denton Peterson Dunn

1930 N Arboleda #200
Mesa, AZ 85213

Office: 480-660-3249
Email: [email protected]

7272 E Indian School Rd #540-132
Scottsdale, AZ 85251

Phone: 480-690-3283
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