Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

It never ceases to amaze us at some of the poor and reckless decisions made by employers. Sometimes, employers’ decisions have a potential to greatly harm an employee. That harm can be caused by intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”). IIED is defined as one who intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress to another by extreme and outrageous conduct. Intentional infliction of emotional distress in the workplace is just one of the many areas handled by labor law attorneys.

IIED Case Example

In Lee v. West Kern Water District, one of the more bizarre employment cases to go to verdict in 2014, plaintiff was a cashier at the water district’s office. Unbeknownst to the plaintiff, four supervisors decided to stage an armed robbery to test how well the employees handled a life-threatening situation. The supervisors purposely kept the staged armed robbery a secret from the employees.

As planned, a man in a ski mask entered the office carrying a paper bag and a note that read, “I have a gun. Put your money in the bag” The man in the ski mask approached plaintiff in an aggressive manner and indicated he was armed. The man in the ski mask pounded on the counter numerous times and continued to point at the note. Plaintiff began filling the bag with money. Afterwards, the man in the ski man left. Immediately after, managers entered the office and informed plaintiff that it was staged and not real. Plaintiff immediately broke down and cried. Plaintiff sought out help from labor law attorneys and sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Attorneys Can Fight for Emotional Distress Damages

Defendants tried to argue that plaintiff was barred from suing for IIED by workers’ compensation. However, workers’ compensation is an exclusive remedy to intentional infliction of emotional distress only when it occurs in the normal part of an employment relationship. Examples of employment activities in the normal course of an employment relationship include termination, demotions, criticism of work practices, etc. Yet, defendants’ conduct here was so far beyond the normal part of an employment relationship and thus plaintiff was not barred from suing for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff awarding her emotional distress damages totaling $360,000.

A lot of times, employees may feel that they are restricted from seeking help from an attorney if they are either still working for the employer, or employees may even feel that their situation is not serious enough to seek help. However, there is nothing wrong with contacting an employment attorney to evaluate and advise you on any potential claims. If you feel your employer’s conduct has gone far beyond the normal part of a typical employment relationship and such conduct has caused your emotional distress, act now and contact a labor law attorney.

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