Can I Sue My Employer for Emotional Distress In Florida?

Can I Sue My Employer for Emotional Distress In Florida?

Nearly every profession has some emotional turmoil and stress, but some jobs involve more than others.

If you feel that your job is particularly stressful, you might wonder, “Can I sue my employer for emotional distress in Florida?” The answer is: it depends.

There’s a big difference between a reasonable level of stress in the workplace and a workplace that causes emotional distress. In the latter situation, the workplace environment is so bad that it makes working a traumatic experience. This experience creates anxiety that results in direct, acute mental, physical, or financial harm.

While your employer can’t be expected to create a stress-free environment, they are expected to prevent behaviors like discriminationharassment, or bullying that make the workday unbearable. If, either through intentional action or negligence, your employer fails to protect you from minor trauma or stress, you can take civil action against them.

You can take several courses of action before filing a Florida lawsuit.

For starters, you’ll typically want to speak with a human resources (HR) representative and allow your employer to correct the situation without a lawsuit if your employer isn’t aware of the situation and is supportive of its employees. Advising HR that a problem exists may be all you need to do to resolve the situation.

If reporting a situation to HR doesn’t end the emotional distress, you could also try contacting the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This government agency investigates and acts on reports of discrimination in the workplace.

These solutions only solve the problem sometimes, though. Sometimes, an employer may even make the situation worse if they choose to retaliate rather than take steps to prevent future emotional distress.

If your employer retaliates or refuses to take corrective action, you can and should file a Florida lawsuit against your employer. U.S. Courts have long held that employees can sue their employers for emotional distress if they are responsible for that distress through action or irresponsible inaction.

How to Sue Employer for Emotional Distress

There’s no easy way to take civil action against an employer. You’re already under severe stress due to your workplace environment, and a lawsuit will likely add to that stress.

However, filing a lawsuit is probably your only viable option if you’ve taken all other reasonable actions to end workplace harassment or discrimination.

Before you file a lawsuit, plan for the possibility that you might need to sue your employer. This means you should document every act of discrimination or harassment that you suffer at work.

The best records are physical documentation, like text messages, emails, or handwritten communications. However, if physical documentation isn’t available, create a log with names, dates, and detailed descriptions of all inappropriate actions.

Additionally, you’ll want to document the distress you’re suffering. The easiest way is to get treatment from a mental health professional.

That professional can provide medical documentation of your distress and billing statements for how much the treatment costs you. You should also maintain records if other costs result from your mental distress.

It would be best if you made all of this documentation while pursuing non-legal action to end the emotional distress. If you’re eventually forced to take legal action, having weeks or months of evidence can significantly increase the likelihood of succeeding in your lawsuit.

Once you’re ready to file a lawsuit, contact an experienced employment discrimination attorney. Your attorney will be able to determine the type and amount of compensation you’re eligible for. They’ll also give you detailed instructions for interacting with your employer and fellow employees before, during, and possibly after the lawsuit.

If you follow those instructions, you should be insulated from further harassment and receive compensation in due time.

What Is Considered Emotional Distress at Work?

Two types of behaviors are considered causes of emotional distress at work: harassment and discrimination. For a particular behavior to cause emotional pain, it must either be an intentional act or a result of negligence.

The most common type of discrimination is discrimination against a protected class. According to both federal and state laws, an employer cannot discriminate against you based on your:

Suppose your employer is paying you less than other employees, providing you with fewer advancement opportunities, or giving you unpleasant work assignments for any of these reasons. In that case, you might be a victim of workplace discrimination.

There are other reasons you might be discriminated against that may also be protected by law. For example, you can’t be discriminated against in Florida due to your vaccination status.

The other major cause of emotional distress at work is harassment.

Workplace harassment is technically a form of discrimination. But unlike ordinary discrimination, which has definable parameters, harassment doesn’t directly harm your mental, physical, or financial standing. Instead, it creates an environment where work becomes unbearable.

Commonly, harassment involves targeted and pervasive:

  • Threats
  • Offensive jokes
  • Slurs
  • Ridicule

It’s similar in many ways to bullying and often has equally distressing results. Some common symptoms of severe harassment or discrimination include:

  • Depression
  • Severe fatigue
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Loss of appetite

If you recognize any of these signs of emotional distress, make it a point to speak to a mental health professional and a qualified attorney specializing in employment law at your earliest convenience.

Can You Sue an Employer Because of a Coworker’s Actions?

An employer is generally responsible for most of an employee’s actions while at work, including activities that aren’t part of their job. Thus, if a coworker is harassing or discriminating against you, your employer is technically liable for those actions and vulnerable to a lawsuit.

If your employer is aware of the inappropriate behavior causing you emotional distress but has done nothing to stop it, it can be assumed that they condone such actions.

It would be best to inform HR once you realize you’re subject to harassment or discrimination. Your employer will only be able to claim ignorance of inappropriate actions by a coworker if you have not gone through the proper channels to inform them.

However, just because your employer is unaware of the inappropriate behavior of one of your coworkers doesn’t mean they’re free from liability. Your employer is supposed to monitor the activities of their employees, and that ignorance might constitute negligence if they’re found to be willfully ignorant of potentially harmful behaviors and actions.

Regardless of when your employer became aware of the inappropriate behavior, they are responsible for acting decisively to end it. If they fail to act decisively to curb harassment or discrimination, you have the right to file a lawsuit seeking compensation for emotional distress.

How Do You Prove Emotional Distress in the Workplace?

Proving emotional distress in the workplace is tricky, as you need to confirm several facts before you can receive compensation, including:

  • Your employer was aware that you were being harassed or discriminated against
  • Your employer understood that the conduct in question was illegal or harmful
  • Your employer, given the opportunity, took no reasonable action to correct the situation
  • You suffered emotional distress as a result of the harassment or discrimination
  • The emotional pain you suffered led to physical or financial harm, including loss of opportunity

Your attorney will need to prove each of these facts in court. The best way to ensure they’ll be able to do so is to communicate with them as early and as fully as possible. Your attorney will help you legally gather evidence that the court will find compelling.

You should notify HR as soon as possible when you’re being harassed to prove that your employer was aware of the situation. If you have written documentation that you advised HR of the problem (possibly multiple times), your employer cannot deny that they were aware of the harassment or discrimination.

Proving your employer was aware the conduct was illegal or harmful is relatively easy, as employers should already be aware that they’re required to provide a safe work environment to employees. With that being said, your lawyer can help you give statements to HR that make it completely clear that you’re being harmed by the behavior in question, thus ensuring documentation.

Often, the trickiest fact to prove is that your employer needs to take proper action to rectify the situation.

Many employers will respond in a way that either doesn’t do enough or possibly even worsens the situation. For example, an employer might give a harassing coworker a promotion to move them to another department. Even if such a measure prevents future harassment, it’s far from appropriate.

Finally, proving that you suffered emotional distress that led to mental, financial, or physical harm is as simple as showing that you’ve received therapy to help with your misery.

Your mental health professional can provide a medical opinion about your emotional distress, and your resulting bills will serve as proof of financial harm. Your attorney can work with you to determine whether any other damage you’ve suffered makes you eligible for further compensation.

Working With an Employment Attorney

Employment lawyers frequently hear one question: “Can I sue my former employer for emotional distress?”

While this is a possible course of action, this question represents a problem for the attorney: since the client is asking about a former employer, they no longer work for that company or superior.

This is problematic because the client often needs access to the employer to collect evidence. At this point, collecting compelling evidence is quite a bit more complicated than it would be if the client were still working for the employer. Additionally, since the client is no longer an employee, it removes any chance of rectifying the situation to allow the client to retain their job.

The best-case scenario is where a client contacts an employment attorney as soon as they register the slightest hint of emotional distress due to workplace harassment or discrimination. That way, the attorney can start directing the client’s actions and communications while there’s still time to work out a best-case solution.

If you find yourself in a situation where you’re faced with harassment or discrimination at the workplace, the earlier you speak to an employment attorney, the better. Along with preventing future harassment and securing compensation for past harassment, your attorney may be able to save your job and ensure that the incident doesn’t derail your employment trajectory.

If you want the best possible outcome after suffering emotional distress at your Florida workplace, contact the knowledgeable employee rights attorneys at Wenzel Fenton Cabassa right away.



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