Damages in Employment Law Cases

Many people who have been fired, demoted, harassed, or experienced some other violation of their employment law rights wonder what kind of damages they can recover if they win their case. Damages in employment law case can vary greatly in different states and under different laws, so it is recommended that you contact an employment lawyer in your area to discuss your specific claims. However, the most common type of damages available in employment law cases in New York and New Jersey include economic damages, emotional distress damages, attorneys fees and costs, punitive damages, and liquidated damages.

Economic Damages

Most employment laws allow for the recovery of economic damages. Economic damages are intended to compensate you for the salary and benefits you lost. They can include your lost salary and the value of your lost benefits like health insurance, a pension, or a 401(k) plan. Economic damages include past losses (called back pay) and future losses (called front pay).

Economic damages are normally available not only in termination cases, but also in cases in which an employee has been illegally suspended without pay, demoted, or denied a promotion. In demotion and promotion cases, economic damages are based on the difference between what you actually earned and what you would have earned if you had been promoted or had not been demoted.

The law requires you to make reasonable efforts to minimize your economic losses. This requirement to “mitigate” your economic damages is discussed in more detail in a previous article.

Emotional Distress Damages

Most employment law claims also allow you to recover damages for the emotional harm caused by an adverse employment action taken against you. This includes damages for emotional pain and suffering you experience as a result of being unlawfully harassed, fired, suspended, demoted, or denied a promotion. It also includes damages for psychological harm you suffer as a result of the discrimination or harassment, such as depression, anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), difficulty sleeping, weight loss, weight gain, difficulty concentrating, headaches, or other physical pain.

Attorney Fees and Costs

Most employment law claims also permit an employee to recover reasonable attorney’s fees and the costs of the lawsuit. However, it is important to understand that the attorney’s fees are not necessarily based on what you paid your lawyer. Rather, they are based on your lawyer’s reasonable hourly billing rate and the time he or she spent on your case.

Punitive Damages

In some employment law cases, you may be able to recover punitive damages. Unlike economic and emotional distress damages, punitive damages are not meant to compensate you for the harm you suffered. Instead, they are meant to punish the company or the individuals who discriminated, retaliated, or harassed you, or otherwise violated your employment law rights.

Punitive damages are only recoverable in a limited number of cases. Generally, you have to prove that the conduct toward you was not just unlawful, but also “especially egregious,” and that the company’s upper management participated in the conduct toward you.

Liquidated Damages

A few laws, including the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and the Fair Labor and Standards Act (FLSA) provide for liquidated damages instead of punitive damages. Liquidated damages are double damages. Under these statutes, you can recover liquidated damages if the unlawful conduct was “willful,” meaning that your employer either knew its conduct violated the law or acted in reckless disregard for your legal rights.


The damages you can recover in an employment law case depend on which law applies and the specific facts of your case. Accordingly, if you want to know what damages you can recover if you win your employment law case, you should contact an employment lawyer in your state.

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