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How to Sue for Workplace Emotional Distress in California 

Written By: Mo Eldessouky Updated On: June 4, 2024 | Read Time: 8 Minutes

Your workplace is supposed to be a welcoming and supportive environment that functions with the best interests of both the business and its employees in mind, but instances of harassment, abuse, and other actions that lead to emotional distress are not uncommon. Fortunately, California has several laws in place against these types of behavior, which have no place in any constructive work environment.

You may have grounds to sue your employer or a coworker if their actions violate the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), California Family Rights Act (CFRA), or similar policies that prohibit inappropriate behavior in the workplace. Even actions that are not explicitly covered by these laws may qualify for damages if there is clear and sufficient evidence that they have resulted in anxiety, depression or other forms of emotional distress. Here are some of the most important things to know if you are considering suing for workplace emotional distress in California. 

Intentional Workplace Emotional Distress 

Many workplace emotional distress cases involve intentional harassment, abuse, or other unacceptable treatment by a manager, other supervisor, or coworker. These scenarios are often directly linked to the imbalance of power between supervisors and lower-ranking team members, but it is also possible for workplace emotional distress to come from a coworker in a similar position. In these situations, the individual that causes emotional distress is fully aware of his or her actions, but it can be more difficult to claim with certainty that they are aware of how they want their actions to impact you or how they are impacting you. Our team will work with you to carefully assess each incident you experienced to determine whether enough evidence is present to reasonably prove that the workplace emotional distress you experienced was intentional. 

Some of the most common causes of intentional workplace emotional distress include: 

  • Frequently making unreasonable demands or requiring an employee to perform unreasonable tasks that are not part of their job description
  • Ongoing job insecurity caused by frequent and often unfounded threats to fire or demote an employee
  • Discrimination or derogatory comments that are made with the clear intent to be hurtful 
  • Sexual harassment or physical abuse 
  • Inappropriate pay rates for a position’s responsibilities or hours or inconsistent pay that singles certain employees out with far lower rates for no legitimate reason 
  • Retaliation after making a complaint about a past incident that led to emotional distress 
  • Other cases of blatant workplace misconduct that an employer or coworker cannot reasonably claim that they did not know came across as harmful 

Negligent Workplace Emotional Distress 

Workplace emotional distress can also be linked to supervisors or coworkers that lack the maturity or emotional intelligence to understand how their actions or comments make others feel. Negligent workplace emotional distress often takes the form of flippant comments that are not thought through or a lack of clear policies against harassment, discrimination, and other actions that may lead to emotional distress. 

Common Misconceptions Surrounding Workplace Emotional Distress 

Emotional distress can be challenging to understand and prove, largely because the majority of its effects are not visible to people other than the target. Some common misconceptions surrounding what workplace emotional distress looks like and your rights when building a case include: 

  • Each employee’s mental health is their own responsibility and how they react to their employer should be out of the employer’s control 
  • Workplace emotional distress is not a legitimate concern because it is not visible 
  • Workplace emotional distress is only caused by managers or supervisors and not other employees that are closer to or equal to the level of the target 
  • Calling out workplace emotional distress instead of ignoring it is unprofessional 
  • Emotional distress has no statute of limitations (this is generally 2-3 years in California depending on the specific details and classification of the incident) 

How to Prove Emotional Distress 

First and foremost, making sure that you thoroughly understand what emotional distress is and what it isn’t is key when it comes to crafting a strong argument in your favor. Everyone feels frustrated or annoyed at work from time to time, which means that proving that emotional distress exists is an important (and challenging) step in creating a case that can reasonably convince a legal team that what you are experiencing goes above and beyond everyday workplace drama. While the intangible nature of emotions makes them quite difficult to prove, working with Eldessouky Law is an important step in piecing incidents together and creating clear and detailed descriptions of what you experienced at work and why we believe it should be considered emotional distress. 

What Does a Compelling Workplace Emotional Distress Case Look Like? 

Emotional distress goes deeper than simply being upset or offended, but it can be difficult to find the right words to clearly convey the difference between the inappropriate behavior you experienced and general workplace disagreements with someone that was not involved. For this reason, crafting a compelling case is a must when it comes to making sure that your complaints are interpreted correctly. Our team can help you describe the incident or incidents you experienced to make your evidence of genuine emotional distress as clear as possible. 

Identify Whether You Experienced Intentional Or Negligent Workplace Emotional Distress 

Simply claiming workplace distress is not enough to support your argument. Instead, you will need to clearly identify whether the emotional distress you experienced was caused intentionally or negligently and back it up with sufficient details that explain why the individual’s intentional or unintentional actions affected you in the way that they did. Some emotional distress cases may include elements of both categories, but it is generally better to show that you clearly understand the difference between the types and are capable of explaining why your experiences fall into a specific category. 

Explain Specific Symptoms You Are Experiencing

Anxiety, depression, and similar symptoms are common results of workplace emotional distress, but it is important to keep in mind that these problems can also be caused by a wide range of other factors. This means that you will need to describe the emotional changes you are experiencing in detail, such as identifying exactly when they occur, when they are the worst, and why you believe an employer or coworker’s actions are making you feel that way. These concerns can be backed up by a psychologist, therapist, physician, or other medical professional that can more clearly assert that your workplace is the cause of the issues you are experiencing. 

What types of Evidence Can Support My Workplace Emotional Distress Claim? 

Unlike physical abuse, emotional distress can be quite difficult to prove because there is often no visible evidence present. That being said, it is not impossible. Working with Eldessouky Law can play an important role in sorting through your memories of an individual’s actions, getting the details on paper, and elaborating on the specific ways in which they have had a negative impact on your life. Including as many types of evidence as possible is always an important step in creating the strongest case possible, but it is even more crucial when handling a situation that carries little to no visible or indisputable proof. 

Eyewitness or Expert Testimonials 

Your coworkers, customers, or anyone else that was present when emotional distress occurred may be willing to testify to back up your claims by describing exactly what they saw or heard. Coworkers or other individuals can explain their version of how a conversation or other incident occurred and how they interpreted its effects on you, which can provide an unbiased account of the workplace emotional distress you experienced and reduce any suspicion that you may be making your claim up or telling half-truths that inauthentically sway an argument in your favor. Even if you were alone with the individual at the time that these incidents occurred, psychological or other experts may be able to back up your claims by verifying what typical responses to the specific types of emotional distress you experienced look like. 

Photo or Video Evidence 

Video evidence from cameras in your workplace, coworkers’ cell phones, or other sources can also be ideal sources of evidence when it comes to verifying exactly what happened. Cameras with quality sound recording generally provide the best evidence of emotional distress because many incidents are verbal, but even workplace security cameras that do not include this feature can pick up on facial expressions, gestures, and other actions that support your claims. Photos may also be helpful if you have minimal other evidence available, although they are unlikely to be capable of providing as much indisputable proof as videos. 

Police Reports 

Police reports serve as official records of what you experienced, especially if you filed a report soon enough after an incident to clearly remember and describe every detail. These written reports are enhanced by speaking with an expert in asking the right questions, which can help to make sure that you present as much information as possible from the beginning. In addition, the act of simply filing a police report can help to show that you are serious about your claim and not impulsively making a less serious dispute sound more significant than it is. 

Medical or Therapy Records 

These official documents can present strong evidence to support your workplace emotional distress claim if you have seen a counselor, physician, or other medical professional about specific concerns that you believe are caused by inappropriate behavior in your workplace, such as depression, anxiety, alcohol or drug problems, or an illness or injury that is linked to problems at work. These professionals can assess your situation to reasonably determine that your workplace is the primary cause of physical or mental health problems you are experiencing, especially if these concerns result in frequently missing work or a decrease in performance at work. 

Damages From Emotional Distress 

Because there are laws in place to protect employees from harassment, abuse, and other types of workplace emotional distress in California, residents may be entitled to a variety of damages should they decide to work with a lawyer to build a case against an employer or coworker. The specific types of compensation that you may receive are generally determined based on the types and severity of mistreatment you experienced, but they may include: 

  • Monetary compensation for lost wages or benefits that are linked to workplace emotional distress, such as work that is missed as a result of an injury or illness, anxiety, or feeling unsafe or extremely uncomfortable at work
  • Compensation for therapy or medical treatment 
  • Damages that address mental anguish, loss of dignity, or pain and suffering 
  • Back pay if your employer missed payments or refused to provide acceptable pay 

Call Our California Employment Lawyers to Start the Process of Suing for Workplace Emotional Distress

At Eldessouky Law, our team recognizes the importance of a safe and welcoming work environment when it comes to feeling secure at work, keeping the workplace productive, and working toward your personal goals. Our experienced team is here to help you build a case that includes as much detailed evidence as possible if you feel that you have been treated inappropriately by an employer or coworker, especially if their actions have resulted in anxiety, depression, or other forms of emotional distress. Contact us today to learn more about what your options might look like if you are considering suing for workplace emotional distress in California or to get started.

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