What Are Aggravated Or Punitive Damages?

What Are Aggravated Or Punitive Damages?

In some cases when an employee is dismissed from their job, the conduct and manner of the dismissal may give rise to a claim for aggravated and/or punitive damages. Such damages are typically meant to compensate an employee for the distress caused by the employer’s actions and to also punish the employer for cruel behavior. 

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are usually awarded in claims where an employer’s actions or conduct are found to be malicious or vindictive. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish an employer for any reprehensible conduct that occurred during an employee’s termination. While punitive damages are meant to punish an employer’s conduct, they are not intended to compensate an employee for actual damages resulting from the dismissal. 

Wrongful acts that may allow for punitive damages can include the intentional violation of fundamental provisions within an employment contract and the breach of obligations such as a fiduciary duty. 

What Are Aggravated Damages?

Employees are also able to claim aggravated damages in a wrongful dismissal. The purpose of awarding aggravated damages is to compensate employees when they are dismissed and the manner of dismissal is particularly cruel. On the one hand, giving an employee a termination letter and wishing them well in the future is fine. On the other hand, yelling at an employee before dismissing them can open the door to an award of aggravated damages. 

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Both punitive and aggravated damages can be claimed against an employer when their actions, separate from the act of dismissal, have caused damages to the employee. Punitive damages punish an employer while aggravated damages compensate the employee.

To seek aggravated damages, the dismissed employee must show that an employer’s action, beyond the dismissal itself, caused damages. In addition, as compensation is the guiding principle of aggravated damages, the employer’s wrongdoing must have been harmful to the employee. Such instances may include mental stress caused by an employer’s actions during dismissal. 

When can you ask for punitive and/or aggravated damages?

Employees can seek either head of damage within a demand letter, and upon bringing a claim for wrongful dismissal. A demand letter represents an offer to settle a dispute before the commencement of litigation, while a claim represents the litigation process. Most matters will start with a demand letter and proceed to litigation if negotiations are unsuccessful. 

What is the threshold (test) for aggravated and/or punitive damages?

To claim punitive damages, you must show that the employer’s actions could reasonably be seen as extreme malicious conduct warranting punishment. Similarly, a claim for aggravated damages will depend on whether it is reasonable to say that the employer’s actions caused harm to the employee. 


Courts commonly award punitive and aggravated damages to employees who have been wrongfully dismissed. A wrongfully dismissed employee can seek these damages through a demand letter and through the litigation process. 

While it’s possible for an employee to receive punitive and aggravated damages with a demand letter, it is unlikely. Additionally, the amount that employees can receive, if at all, will vary. 

Therefore, hiring the right employment lawyers is crucial to get what you need. 

Contact Us

If you are an employee and have questions about damages that you may be entitled to,  or if you are an employer facing a workplace claim,  our team of experienced employment lawyers at Achkar Law can help.

Contact us toll-free at 1-800-771-7882 or email us at [email protected], as we are happy to assist.

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