man distressed at work

Suing Your Employer for Emotional Distress

By Tom McKinney
NJ Employment Attorney

Most people split the majority of their time between two places: work and home. For that reason, it’s important that everyone feels safe, healthy, and empowered in both places. Unfortunately, some work environments can be incredibly hostile to their employees. 

A toxic workplace can cause severe emotional distress and even PTSD. Fortunately, in New Jersey, there are protections against emotional abuse at work. It is essential for any worker in New Jersey to understand how to recognize emotional abuse in the workplace and what can be done to address it.

If you think you may be experiencing workplace PTSD, contact NJ Employment Lawyers today. 

What constitutes emotional abuse at work?

There are several types of workplace harassment, one of which is emotional abuse. The law defines workplace emotional abuse as threatening or belittling behavior toward a person or a group of people. The law also establishes that workplace emotional abuse is based on some type of discrimination

How to Recognize Workplace Emotional Abuse

There are a few simple ways to know that workplace emotional abuse is happening to you:

You’re Experiencing Insults, Intimidation, or Humiliation

Workplace emotional abuse might involve threats, insults, or intimidation. It may also involve humiliation. Both physical and emotional abuse can occur in the workplace at the same time.  

It’s Intentional 

It’s possible for a person to behave abusively without intending to. While this behavior is also problematic and must be addressed, the law defines workplace emotional abuse as being intentional. This means that the abuser is deliberately choosing to hurt the victim.  

There’s a Power Imbalance 

Relationships in which there’s a power imbalance are ripe with opportunities for emotional abuse. An abuser in a position of authority uses their authority to humiliate, control, and disempower their victim. 

It Occurs Regularly

An abusive action is an abusive action, but the law defines workplace emotional abuse as behavior that occurs for an extended time period, often escalating as it continues. This is the kind of behavior that causes PTSD from work.

Forms of Workplace Emotional Abuse

In addition to learning how to recognize workplace emotional abuse, it’s important to understand the different forms this type of abuse can take.


In some cases, higher-ranked employees feel and express jealousy toward younger or lower-ranked colleagues. This typically occurs when the higher-ranked employee feels insecure in their position, causing them to feel suspicious. 

Jealousy becomes workplace emotional abuse when it causes a higher-ranked employee to attempt to assert control over someone else. 

Dominant Behavior

An emotionally abusive boss may attempt to assert dominance over an employee. Dominant behavior might look like an abusive boss isolating their victim or sending them excessive messages re-asserting their control.  

Verbal Aggression

This form of emotional abuse at work is perhaps the easiest to recognize. An abusive boss exhibits verbal aggression when they use combative forms of communication. These forms of communication are meant to disturb, frustrate, or humiliate the victim. 

Can you sue your boss for emotional distress? 

If you recognize signs of emotional abuse in your workplace and fear that you are experiencing workplace PTSD, you may be wondering, “Can I sue my boss for emotional distress?”

The answer is complicated, as there’s technically no law against workplace harassment. However, both federal and state laws prohibit harassment and hostility when they occur as a result of differences in:

  • Race
  • Sex
  • Disability
  • Pregnancy
  • Religion 

Even if your employer is not harassing you as a result of one of these differences, you may still have legal recourse. Many employers have anti-harassment clauses in their contracts, in which case workplace abuse would constitute a breach. 

An Experienced Employment Lawyer Can Protect You

If you believe that your employer may have breached their contract by harassing you in the workplace, it’s important to consult with a knowledgeable employment attorney. 

Our dedicated team at NJ Employment Lawyers can review the details of your employer’s policies and contracts to determine your legal options. Contact us to schedule your consultation with a law firm that cares today.

About the Author
Tom McKinney is a skilled employment law attorney with New Jersey Employment Lawyers LLC. He has a track record of success in all areas of employment law, including sexual harassment, discrimination, harassment, wrongful discharge, whistleblower claims and hostile work environment claims. Besides litigation, Tom handles severance agreements and severance package reviews/negotiations for over 100 people each year. If you have any questions regarding this blog, contact Tom here.