When can you hire a harassment attorney to sue an employer in California? What legal line does an employer have to cross?

In most cases, you cannot sue an employer if you are injured at your workplace or in the “course and scope” of your employment, even if the employer was negligent and responsible for your injury. (Usually, your remedy in such a case is workers’ compensation benefits.)

However, employers in California may be sued for discrimination, harassment, creating a hostile work environment, retaliation against whistleblowers, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress or “IIED.”

WHAT IS IIED AND WHAT SHOULD YOU KNOW ABOUT IT?

Precisely what is IIED? Have you experienced IIED at work, or have you been targeted for IIED by an employer?

The most important thing to know about IIED is this: If you have been the target of the intentional infliction of emotional distress by your employer, you do not have to put up with it, and you can take steps to stop it – starting today.

HOW DOES CALIFORNIA LAW DEFINE IIED?

The law in California defines the intentional infliction of emotional distress as conduct by an employer that is outrageous, and that is either intentional or committed with a reckless disregard for the probability that an employee would experience severe emotional distress.

The specific behaviors may vary, but your rights have been violated if an employer’s conduct toward you can be characterized as:

1. egregiously inappropriate and out of line – and would be under any circumstances

2. behavior designed to cause – or indifferent to the possibility of causing – severe emotional distress or trauma

3. the actual reason you have suffered severe emotional distress

What the law does not do is protect an employee from being harshly criticized, insulted, offended, or having his or her “feelings hurt.”

WHAT SOME EXAMPLES OF IIED?

An IIED claim is a claim of persistent, outrageous conduct that results in the most severe kind of emotional distress.

Being terminated, for example, is almost always hurtful and embarrassing for anyone, but unless your termination is retaliatory or based on discrimination, you probably have no legal recourse.

But if you are routinely humiliated in front of co-workers, targeted for vulgar insults, disciplined or demoted for no apparent reason, threatened, or subjected to racial or sexual slurs, those actions may constitute the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

And that is against the law.

In Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, or anywhere in the state of California, if you believe that you have been a target for the intentional infliction of emotional distress, discuss your rights at once with an employment rights attorney.

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO PREVAIL WITH AN IIED CLAIM?

Any legal claim requires evidence. If you file a lawsuit against an employer for IIED, here is what you will have to prove:

1. Your employer’s conduct was outrageous and egregious. It must be conduct that the average reasonable person would consider extreme. Bad manners and rude language, for example, may be annoying but do not constitute IIED.

2. The employer either meant to cause the employee to suffer emotionally, or the employer was indifferent to the likelihood of causing the employee’s suffering and distress.

3. You in fact suffered enduring, substantial, and/or overwhelming emotional distress that no one should have to endure. The duration and intensity of your distress will be taken into consideration if you file an injury claim against the employer for IIED.

WHAT FEDERAL LAWS ADDRESS IIED?

Currently, federal law is silent regarding IIED, although in some states, its victims may find relief under the federal laws prohibiting hostile work environments and employer retaliation against whistleblowers.

Here in California, the law specifically protects employees from the intentional infliction of emotional distress when that emotional distress is “severe” – so persistent and/or overwhelming that a reasonable person would not be expected to endure it.

HOW DOES CALIFORNIA LAW DEFINE “OUTRAGEOUS” CONDUCT?

Under the law in California, an employer’s conduct may be considered outrageous depending on the answers to these questions:

1. Did the employer abuse the power to influence the employee’s interests?
2. Did the employer know that the employee was vulnerable to severe emotional distress?
3. Did the employer know that the conduct was likely to cause severe emotional distress?

IF YOU BECOME A TARGET FOR IIED, WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?

If you are considering a lawsuit against a California employer based on IIED, do everything you can to keep a record of anything that might be evidence – such as emails, voice mails, or written memos.

If you choose to file a lawsuit, your documents, notes, and recordings may become evidence. Make copies and keep them stored securely.

To win damages from an employer in an IIED case, it is not necessary for an employee to prove that any physical injury was suffered. The infliction of “severe” emotional distress is sufficient for an IIED lawsuit to prevail.

WHAT ARE IIED VICTIMS ENTITLED TO IN CALIFORNIA?

In fact, IIED victims may receive damages for any medical bills, prescriptions, counseling or therapy, or lost wages that arise as the result of the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

California IIED victims may also – in cases that involve intentional wrongdoing or reckless indifference – receive punitive damages aimed at deterring such behavior in the future.

If you are dealing with severe emotional distress because of an employer’s outrageous, reckless, or intentional infliction of emotional distress, a skilled employment rights attorney can fight for compensation – and for justice – on your behalf.

Working people in our state enjoy comprehensive legal protection against sexual harassment, hostile work environments, wage and hour violations, discrimination, and employer retaliation.

WHAT’S IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER IF YOU ARE AN IIED TARGET?

The intentional infliction of emotional distress is not tolerated in California. If you have experienced the intentional infliction of severe emotional distress at your workplace, it’s important to remember that the law is on your side.

In fact, you may be able to win justice without the time and aggravation of a jury trial. The overwhelming majority of lawsuits against California employers are settled out-of-court when the attorneys for both sides meet and negotiate a settlement.

If your California employer is violating your employment rights in any way, get the legal help you need – and start getting the treatment and respect you deserve. Having an attorney’s advice and help is your absolute legal right, and that help is only a phone call away.

By: Fred Geonetta

Frederick J. Geonetta is a graduate of the University of California, Hastings College of Law. His legal practice is entirely devoted to litigation. Mr. Geonetta has spent the past 25 years in private practice representing both plaintiffs and defendants who have been harmed or wronged by the actions of others or who have been falsely accused of causing harm to others. He represents clients across the U.S. and international clients who seek U.S. legal advice or representation.