“Can I, as an employer, be sued for stress?” This is probably a question that employers think about quite often. Thankfully, as a general rule, an employee cannot sue their employer for stress, unless the employer’s conduct that caused the stress was due to your race, gender, national origin, religion, or other protected characteristics.

Being Sued For Stress vs. Hostile Work Environment

It is a common misconception among non-lawyers that workers can sue their employers anytime they create a “hostile work environment,” which is a type of discrimination. So, if the hostile environment is due to gender, for example – pervasive work cultures of grabbing or groping women, displays of pornographic materials – then an employee can sue their employer for the stress that results.

But, if an employer is simply mean, critical, or demands excessive overtime, an employee cannot sue unless their boss’s actions are targeted specifically toward them because of their race, sexual orientation, etc. An “equal opportunity jerk” is generally safe from lawsuits.

One rare exception exists if one’s manager or coworker, with management’s knowledge and/or approval, acts so egregiously that one has a cause of action in tort. If an employer threatens an employee with physical violence, or actively stalks them (follows them when not at work, shows up at their home in the middle of the night), the employee could sue. But conduct like this is fortunately well beyond the work stress most employees experience from bad managers.

There is also a movement, led by the Healthy Workplace Campaign (HWC), pushing for anti-bullying laws that penalize verbal abuse, threats, and humiliation in the workplace. No state has yet adopted these proposed laws. However, California has passed a law (Assembly Bill 2053), requiring employers to provide training on workplace bullying. California employers must include, with their required anti-harassment training, the prevention of abusive conduct. Under this new law, one bad act – unless “especially severe and egregious” – will not be enough to count as abusive conduct, there must be a pattern of conduct.

It may be that in the future, such abusive conduct will be actionable and accountable. However, for now, an employee cannot sue their employer for the stress their abusive behavior causes unless it is discriminatory based.

If you feel that you need assistance with employment law matters, please contact Hackler Flynn and Associates.

DISCLAIMER: Content within this post should not be considered legal advice and is for informational purposes only. Communications made through this post do not create an attorney-client relationship. Hackler Flynn & Associates is not responsible for any content that you may access from third-party resources that may be accessed through or linked to this post. Hackler Flynn & Associates is only licensed to practice in California.

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