A lot has been made of the recent district court decision on legal job protections for qualifying medical marijuana patients.
But the decision has another piece that has been overlooked and which may cause employers some heartburn as well.
The “Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress” cause of action has been on life support for the last decade or so as courts have limited its applicability for claims arising in the workplace.
Indeed, the Connecticut Supreme Court held back in 2002 that a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress cannot arise from conduct occurring in an ongoing employment relationship, as distinguished from conduct occurring in the termination of employment.
But what should happen to claims by job applicants that allege that rescinded job offers have caused emotional distress?
The recent decision by Judge Meyer allows that claim to continue and denied an employer’s motion to dismiss.
It found that the allegation of the complaint — and specifically, that the employer knew that plaintiff suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and then waited to rescind her job offer until one day before she was scheduled to begin work (and after she had already left her prior job), was sufficient to establish a possible claim. The allegations of the complaint were that such actions caused plaintiff to experience severe emotional distress, including anxiety, sleeplessness, and loss of appetite.
The Court, in its ruling, analyzed the decisions in Connecticut in the last 15 years and found that “Connecticut courts have not squarely decided whether a rescinded job offer could serve as the basis for a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim”:
The practical,workplace-related reasons … for precluding a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress on the basis of events occurring in an ongoing employment relationship do not apply in the context of an employer who rescinds a job offer before the prospective employee can begin work. … Because the withdrawal of a job offer is more akin to termination than to conduct occurring in an ongoing employment relationship, it seems consistent … that a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress could arise from the withdrawal of a job offer.
Although the decision itself shouldn’t necessarily change how employers manage their job offers (or withdrawals of job offers), it is a reminder to treat job applicants with some care. If an employer does need to withdraw the job offer, it should be done in a way to minimize the harm to the applicant.
The worry, of course, with the court’s decision is that there are going to be cases that allege that the mere withdrawal of the job offer is sufficient to state a claim; the court’s decision doesn’t go that far and it seems that the plaintiff’s allegation of PTSD was a significant factor in allowing the claim to proceed.
But employers who face such claims in the lawsuit should be sure to review the circumstances to see where on the spectrum the particular claim falls.