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June 21, 2024 | DisputeEmployment

Can You Sue an Employer for Emotional Distress in New Jersey?

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Yes, you can sue an employer for emotional distress in New Jersey. However, workers’ compensation law limits an employee’s legal options and proving the existence of emotional harm can be challenging, so it is important to consult an attorney who can provide guidance as to the best path forward.

What is Emotional Distress?

Emotional distress can be broadly described as a state of mental suffering that arises in response to traumatic or otherwise distressing experiences.  Emotional distress can include one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling overwhelmed or hopeless
  • Persistent worrying
  • Fatigue or trouble keeping up with responsibilities
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Unexplained physical pain

Like the symptoms, the causes of emotional distress can also vary widely, and include, for example:

  • Traumatic exposure to natural disasters, major accidents, or violence
  • Long-term medical issues
  • Major changes in family structure or business or other relationships

Circumstances and experiences in the workplace can similarly cause employees to experience symptoms of emotional distress.  In the workplace, emotional distress can be caused by discriminationharassment, retaliation, tension with co-workers, or an excessive workload.

Can You Sue Your Employer for Stress and Anxiety in New Jersey?

You generally can bring a claim against your employer for stress and anxiety in New Jersey, but the relief may be limited to specific circumstances, and other paths may be more fruitful for resolving harm caused by emotional distress at work.

For physical injuries and illnesses, treatment for psychological harm caused by work is usually covered by workers compensation law in New Jersey.  Workers’ compensation is meant to cover the costs of medical treatment and lost wages induced by work-related injuries, which may include trauma or stress.  However, whether an insurance company will accept these claims as work-related versus personal is a major barrier to claiming workers’ compensation benefits for stress and anxiety. Insurance companies are often resistant to covering claims for emotional harm.

Since workers’ compensation is meant to cover certain emotional harm, employees may be limited to those insurance benefits as the sole remedy for that harm, meaning they cannot seek additional compensation from their employer through a lawsuit. However, some employer actions may give rise to grounds for a lawsuit.

Employees may be able to make other claims for forms of harm or based on an unlawful termination (including constructive discharge) caused by an employer’s wrongful conduct.  These claims generally would fall under the umbrella of wrongful termination, which can be caused by a wide variety of misconduct.  Since emotional harm may be paired with termination, harassment, discrimination, or other harm, an employment attorney can help explore any claims that may help you obtain a recovery.

How Do You Prove Emotional Distress?

To prove emotional distress, an employee must be able to show through documents or testimony that one’s distress was caused, at least in part, by workplace issues.   This proof must also include evidence that the distress caused harm to the employee, whether mental, physical, or otherwise. This can be more challenging than it sounds, so documenting distress and its causes early and often is vital to establishing a case against an employer.

Medical evidence (often called “medical corroboration”) is crucial to proving cases of severe emotional distress.  This medical evidence often includes documentation of diagnoses and prescribed treatments, records of any therapy sessions or other appointments, or expert testimony from medical professionals.  A documented timeline of triggering workplace events and resulting distress symptoms, as well as corroborating testimony from witnesses, is also helpful in establishing causation.

Conclusion

Suffering from emotional stress can lead to long-term mental and physical health issues.  To better understand your legal options in these difficult situations, it is essential to consult with an experienced employment attorney. Feel free to contact us to speak with a member of our team.

 

Photo by Nubelson Fernandes on Unsplash
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