Employment laws exist for a reason – to protect employees. When companies break the law, workers end up suffering the consequences. From discrimination and harassment in the workplace to retaliation, a hostile work environment, or wrongful termination – employer misconduct can seriously impact your life, your career, and your mental health.
Wage theft alone costs workers in the U.S. over $15 billion in stolen wages every single year, making it the single most common and most costly form of theft in the world.
Like most people, your job and your career are essential to your life – it’s your source of income and you rely on your position for benefits like health insurance and retirement contributions. Your professional reputation helps you support yourself and your family. As a result, employers have a lot of power over their workers. But as a U.S. worker, you have rights. Federal and New York state laws stop employers from mistreating or cheating their employees.
If your employer breaks the law, you can file a legal claim or lawsuit against them to recover financial compensation for your losses. This compensation is called damages.
What Types of Damages are Available in Employment Cases?
Damages are meant to “make you whole” under the law. This legal remedy works by putting you in a position as if you never experienced your employer’s misconduct.
In many employment law cases, damages come in the form of financial compensation – for example, by paying you any wages you were owed but never paid (back pay).
However, some employment law cases involve court orders for your employer to take some kind of remedial action – for example, by reinstating you back to your position or providing reasonable accommodations for you while you continue to work for them.
How much can you get in damages in your employment law case? That depends entirely on your unique experience – how the illegal conduct affected you and impacted your life. Only an employment lawyer can help you determine what to expect in a settlement.
What Are Compensatory Damages in Employment Claims?
Compensatory damages are meant to compensate you for the actual effects of your employer’s misconduct on your career and your life. These damages are focused on making you, the victim of the misconduct, “whole” – as if the misconduct never happened.
Compensatory damages cover both economic and non-economic damages. This reflects not just the financial impact of employer misconduct but also the emotional and mental toll – not to mention the long-term impact on your career, earning potential, or reputation.
Your economic damages should cover financial losses such as:
- Back pay or lost income, including bonuses and commissions – for example, if you were wrongfully terminated based on discrimination, you could receive back pay covering from the date you were fired until the day your case resolves.
- Front pay or lost future income because you expect you’ll be unable to find work for a certain amount of time because of economic conditions or hits to your reputation.
- The value of lost benefits including your health care coverage, dental insurance, retirement, pension, or 401k plans, profit sharing plans, stock options, or vacation pay.
Your non-economic damages should cover any emotional distress and mental anguish you experienced because of your employer’s illegal misconduct – for example, the cost of visiting a therapist or mental health professional to manage your workplace issues.
Unfortunately, it’s extremely common for victims of workplace discrimination or harassment to suffer serious psychological effects. A toxic or hostile work environment is intentionally designed to mentally break down employees so that they give up or quit. The emotional effects of such mistreatment can ripple out to your personal and family lives as well. Intense stress can even manifest physically in the body through pain and chronic injuries.
In an employment law case, you can prove that you actually suffered these types of non-economic damages through the testimony of your doctor or mental health professional.
What Are Punitive Damages in Employment Lawsuits?
While compensatory damages focus on you and making your situation right, punitive damages focus on the actions of the company that committed the misconduct. Specifically, these damages are meant to punish employers for especially harmful behavior.
The law recognizes that there’s a power imbalance between employers and employees. So the courts are especially harsh on companies that take advantage of this power imbalance to intentionally mistreat their employees. In addition, the law wants companies to fix illegal problems within a reasonable time. So if a company knows that there’s a problem with illegal misconduct but never takes any steps to fix it, that could call for punitive damages.
Another type of punitive damages is liquidated damages. If your employer’s actions were unintentional, you can get up to 100% of your compensatory damages as additional liquidated damages. But if your company intentionally engaged in illegal misconduct, you could receive an additional double or triple (up to 300%) of your compensatory damages in liquidated damages. This is another way that courts punish companies for especially bad behavior.
What to Ask For in an Employment Settlement
In order to recover damages in an employment law case in New York, you must show that:
- You are a “covered employee” under employment laws,
- Your company is a “covered employer” under the law,
- Your employer took actions that broke the law, and
- Those actions hurt you with real consequences.
The stronger your case, the stronger your position will be when it comes to winning and negotiating a settlement. An experienced employment law attorney can help put together the evidence you need to get the maximum possible settlement in your favor.
In addition to damages, you could also get a legal remedy such as a court order or injunction. This involves ordering your employer to take a certain action, such as:
- Reinstating you to your position before you suffered from the misconduct.
- Give you a promotion if discrimination cost you the promotion in the first place.
- Providing reasonable accommodations for you as required under the law.
- Publishing a correction or apology to undo the harm to your reputation.
- Specific actions to stop the illegal misconduct from happening again.
These types of legal remedies may not always be appropriate, especially if the court believes that your working relationship with your employer has broken down beyond repair. In addition, you may not want to return to your former workplace even if you had the chance.
Damage Limits in Employment Law Cases
Even if you get targeted by employer misconduct, you still have a responsibility to minimize your damages as much as possible. For example, if you get fired, you must still make a good-faith effort to find other work – even if your firing was illegal.
Calculating Damages in Employment Cases
An experienced lawyer is a critical part of any employment law case. A good employment lawyer helps level the playing field in a situation with a huge power imbalance. Your lawyer can not only guide you through the legal process, but they can help you take steps to protect yourself and get the evidence you need to successfully prove your case.
Your attorney also has the knowledge to properly calculate your damages. Companies aren’t usually interested in taking responsibility or paying for their mistakes – they would rather protect their profits and shareholders. Your company will try to minimize your legal claim as much as possible. Your lawyer will be on your side and in your corner at all times, fighting for you even when your employer wants to sweep your case under the rug.
At Mirza Law, we’re here to help. Contact us now to get started with a free case consultation.