Harassed at Work: Can You Sue for Emotional Abuse?

Woman Who Was Harassed at Work

When you are harassed at work, it can make you dread every shift and put your physical and mental health at risk. But can you do anything to stop it? Can you sue for emotional abuse if harassed at work?

In this post, I will review the laws that protect employees from workplace harassment and emotional abuse. I will summarize the damages available for stress, mental health treatment, and other emotional distress, and how an employment discrimination attorney can help you be compensated for your emotional pain and suffering.

Emotional Abuse Can Cause Serious Health Concerns

Emotional abuse at work is always about power. The conscious, repeated effort to wound an employee with words is designed to undermine those employees' accomplishments and rob them of their self-confidence. Workplace harassment can include:

  • Misplaced blame for errors
  • Sabotage of work done
  • Unreasonable work demands
  • Stealing credit for work done
  • Discounting accomplishments
  • Intimidation
  • Insults and put-downs
  • Humiliation
  • Threats to a person's job, seniority, or assignments

Workplace bullying and other forms of emotional abuse aren't just about hurt feelings. Psychological harassment can seriously harm an employee's well-being and productivity. Over time, emotional distress caused by a hostile work environment can result in anxiety, depression, stress, and even trauma responses like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It can cause reduced productivity, increased absenteeism, and even require leaves of absence as the victim addresses the mental-health consequences of the abusive treatment.

The effects of emotional abuse can't be easily undone. They often require ongoing mental health treatment, therapy, and sometimes even require medication. When emotional abuse rises to the level of psychological trauma, the effects can even be permanent. Stress and trauma can also cause physical illnesses including ulcers, digestive issues, and sleep disorders.

When Emotional Abuse is Illegal

There is no general law against workplace bullying or other forms of harassment at work. But state and federal laws do protect against a hostile work environment based on a number of protected traits:

Often, a hostile work environment includes emotional abuse and derogatory statements based on or about a person's protected trait. When an employer doesn't respond to complaints about sexual harassment or racial jokes, it can open the door for an employee to sue for emotional abuse.

What to Do When Workplace Harassment Isn't Discrimination

Even when your emotional distress isn't caused by racial tension or unwanted sexual advances, you may still have the ability to sue for emotional abuse. Many employer have anti-bullying policies against workplace harassment. When a superior refuses to enforce those policies it can create a breach of contract action against the company. However, the claims and damages available in these cases depend on the language in each individual contract or policy. So it is important to meet with an experienced employment lawyer to review your options.

Damages Available in an Emotional Abuse Lawsuit

If you and your employment discrimination attorneys determine you have a valid emotional abuse lawsuit, you may be able to recover a variety of damages and other remedies. On the one hand, you will be entitled to back pay and front pay for any time you were unable to work as a result of the abuse. This can cover leaves of absence under FMLA or short-term disability, as well as constructive firing if you had no choice but to leave your job.

You should also keep a record of all actual costs connected to the abuse and any related job loss. You may be able to receive compensation for anything from hospital bills and therapy costs to travel for interviews in replacement jobs or training needed to shift employment.

Depending on the nature of your workplace harassment claim, and the laws in your state, you may also be entitled to compensatory and punitive damages based on your emotional distress, pain and suffering, harm to reputation, and other non-economic injuries. Often these damages must be objectively demonstrated. You and your lawyer should be prepared to use medical records and even expert witnesses to present your claims.

Finally, if you want to keep your job, you may be entitled to injunctive relief. This is where a judge orders your employer to change its ways. An injunction could require a company to create or enforce anti-harassment policies, change hiring, job assignment, and firing practices, or put managers, supervisors, and employees through training. A judge could even require a business to fire the one responsible for the harassment.

There are many options for remedies available in an emotional abuse lawsuit. At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, our employment discrimination attorneys will review your case, determine which laws apply to your circumstance, and help you understand your rights. We will discuss your options and create a plan, so you know what to expect. Contact Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, today to talk to an employment discrimination attorney.

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