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Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

If an employer has behaved in an outrageous manner and caused you severe emotional distress then you might be the victim of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED). IIED is a state law issue but there do tend to be similar elements across the states. Below is an explanation of the more common elements of IIED.

1. What is Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED)?

Intentional infliction of emotional distress is sometimes referred to as the "tort of outrage." In some cases, the circumstances of termination are so cruel, intimidating, and severe that an employee suffers extreme emotional upset. In certain instances, it is unlawful for an employer to deliberately cause an employee serious emotional harm. You might have been treated unlawfully if the employer's conduct toward you was:

  • Extreme and outrageous, beyond the bounds of acceptable conduct in a civilized society;
  • Intended to, or could reasonably be foreseen to, cause a reasonable person serious emotional trauma; and
  • Actually the cause of severe and serious emotional distress for you.

The law does not protect against "mere insult." The focus for this kind of claim is on the outrageousness of the conduct and the severity of the emotional distress that results. Being fired on the spot and escorted out of the building by security in front of all of your former co-workers is probably not enough, alone, to constitute intentional infliction of serious emotional distress. Being handcuffed without justification or being subjected to repeated racial slurs, or severe sexual harassment may constitute an "outrage" that can be remedied.

2. Am I the victim of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress?

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) occurs when your employer purposely causes severe emotional distress to you as a result of extreme and outrageous conduct. Examples of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress claims can include racial insults, sex discrimination, false imprisonment, and conduct that threaten your physical security (a physical injury is not necessary).

3. Can I bring an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim if my employer fires me?

No. Termination of employment by itself, even if it is wrong or without cause, is not extreme and outrageous conduct.

4. How can I prove a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress?

To show that IIED occurred in the workplace, you must show all of the following:

  • Extreme and Outrageous conduct by your employer or a representative of your employer. The most difficult part of this process will be proving that your employer's conduct was extreme and outrageous. Courts have interpreted this to mean conduct that exceeds what is tolerated in a civilized society or that has gone beyond all reasonable bounds of decency. The conduct must make the average, reasonable person exclaim, that's outrageous! Outrageous conduct does not include annoyances, hurt feelings, insults, rough language, or bad manners that a reasonable person is expected to endure.
  • Your employer must have intended to cause you to suffer extreme emotional distress, or must have known that such distress was substantially likely to result.
  • You suffered severe or extreme emotional distress. Severe emotional distress is that which is substantial or enduring. It has also been defined as a kind of distress no reasonable person is expected to endure. It may consist of any highly unpleasant reaction such as fright, grief, shame, humiliation, embarrassment, anger, or worry. Both the intensity and the duration of your emotional distress are factors to be considered in determining whether it is severe. Your emotional distress need not have been so bad that you were unable to function in business or personal relationships.
  • AND your employer's conduct caused your distress.

5. Are there any federal laws prohibiting IIED?

No, IIED is a state law issue and so you will have to check the statutes where you work in order to determine exactly what kind of conduct is prohibited within your jurisdiction.

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