Utah employers have a great deal of leverage in the employment relationship and can fire employees for no reason (unless it’s a violation of someone’s protected status). But there are laws and regulations meant to even the playing field to a certain degree, such as minimum wage requirements and protections from harassment and discrimination.
Wrongful Termination in Utah
Employers who fail to follow at-will employment exceptions violate employment laws in the state and may find themselves involved in a lawsuit. In cases where an employee takes legal action against his or her employer, that person may be able to collect several different types of compensation if his or her case is successful. For instance, in employment law-related cases, an employee may be awarded front pay, back pay, reimbursement for attorney fees and punitive damages. The employee may also be able to go back to the position he or she was terminated from.
Breach of Contract
Employers who establish an employment contract with an employee are not subject to Utah’s at-will employment laws. In addition to recognizing written contracts, the state also recognizes implied employment contracts based on oral agreements, any statements that are outlined in an employee handbook and any action displayed by employers that illustrate their intention to not fire at will. For instance, employers might have an implied contract if they promise an employee that as long as he or she performs well, he or she will remain employed. Employers who terminate an employee without good cause when an employment contract is in place may face legal action on behalf of the terminated worker.
Most wrongful termination cases develop when discrimination is involved. In Utah, employers are not allowed to terminate an employee based on national origin, race, color, sex, religion, pregnancy, disability or age. They are also not permitted to terminate an employee based on HIV or AIDS status, genetic information, sexual orientation or gender identity. All employers in the state are required to comply with these laws if they have at least 15 employees.
Employment laws in Utah make it illegal for employers to retaliate against an employee when he or she asserts his or her rights as a worker. For instance, if an employee files a complaint with HR on the basis that he or she was passed over for a raise because of his or her age, the worker’s employer is not allowed to discipline or fire the employee for this action. Employers in the state are also not allowed to retaliate against an employee if he or she participates in the investigation of a discrimination complaint, regardless of who filed the initial complaint, or if that employee put forth effort to stop discriminatory practices in the workplace.
In Utah, employers are not allowed to terminate an employee when he or she exercises his or her right to meet civic obligations and certain personal responsibilities. For instance, employers are required to provide their employees with unpaid leave when they are summoned for jury duty. Employers who either penalize or terminate their employees who fulfill this public duty may be subject to a wrongful termination lawsuit.
If you have recently been fired or laid off and think your employer may have violated the law by letting you go, contact a Utah employment lawyer as soon as possible. Utah is generally an “at-will” employment state, meaning that an employee can usually be fired at any time for any reason, or even for no reason at all. However, there are several exceptions to the “at-will” employment rule, and an experienced Utah employment law attorney can explain your rights and determine whether or not you have a case. Being fired or dismissed from work is an unfortunate experience and many employees regard it as an “unfair” act of an employer. Employment wrongful termination occurs when an employee or worker is fired from a company for illegal or “unethical reasons”. So no matter how an employee looks at how “unfairly” he has been discharged, a termination becomes wrongful or illegal, for instance, if a violation against a federal law or statute has been made. However, other acts of an employer may also give rise to wrongful termination. A dismissed employee may file a wrongful termination claim under the following situations:
• When termination is based on discrimination involving issues of age, race, gender, religion, and disability
• When an employee is fired in retaliation to whistle blowing actions, worker’s compensation claim or for asserting his legal rights
• When one’s termination violates the normal firing procedures as stated in company handbooks, manual or in employment contract
• When an employer and other employees use defamation of character as reason for the dismissal of an employee
• When the dismissal is in violation of public policy in regards to local, state and federal laws and statutes
• Violation of implied contract laws
• When an employee is fired based on any negligent or undesirable action that he was not responsible for in any manner
• Through constructive discharge such as making working conditions intolerable for the worker
Filing a Wrongful Termination Claim
In consideration of the strict statute of limitation in a wrongful termination case, the claim must be initiated by a discharged employee right after his termination. The claim must be submitted, with all pertinent documents, to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) with assistance from an employment lawyer.
The following documents are vital to one’s case and must be presented to an employment lawyer to pursue the claim:
• Employment contract, whether written or implied
• Company handbook and manuals
• Company memoranda and other related communication
• Documents related to past job performance
• Documentary evidence related to one’s termination
• Deposition statements of potential witnesses
Generally, the statute of limitation for the filing of claim is 180 days from the date of termination or 300 days from violations which are deemed part of federal and state civil rights violation as basis of one’s wrongful termination.
Typically, wrongful termination claims are filed for two main reasons:
• To be reinstated to past occupational position without any retaliatory action for filing upheld claims
• To seek compensatory and punitive damages for liable actions done by the employer
In most cases, liability in a wrongful discrimination claim can be established and proven by looking into possible violations made by an employer against existing federal and state laws, which a victim may sometimes find difficult to do for lack of legal knowledge. However, with the assistance of an employment lawyer, one may find justification for his claim and recover the rightful compensation that he deserves.
Steps for terminating an employee
Let employees know where they stand: An employee shouldn’t be surprised that he or she is being fired. Whether the employee is not performing up to standard or does not work well within their team, you need to be clear about problems as they occur.
Develop a plan and timeline for improvement: “After every discussion of this type with an employee, follow up with a written recap of the conversation in an email or on paper.” “State what is expected of the employee and when. Be encouraging. State you are confident the employee will make the necessary improvements, but also be clear on the possible consequences if the employee fails to improve.”
Prepare documentation: If the employee fails to improve and will be terminated, have your documentation ready. You need to prepare a written notice of termination, and determine if a severance is necessary. Calculate the proper severance based on the total compensation the employee earned upon termination. If you have an employment contract, it is a good idea to verify if a termination clause settles the question of severance. “The severance depends on many criteria including the circumstances surrounding the hiring and firing, the employee’s age and experience, the position held and length of service with the organization.
Hold a face-to-face meeting: “Never terminate an employee over the phone or by email.” Instead, be brief and to the point in a face-to-face meeting. Depending on the situation, you may want to have a witness. But don’t drag the employee’s colleagues into it. Choose a neutral party, such as the person responsible for human resources.
Allow the employee to leave with dignity: After the firing has taken place, depending on the situation, the employee may be asked to stop work right away or be required to work a termination notice period. You should make sure a fired employee is allowed to leave with dignity. For example, there is usually no reason to prevent a departing employee from personally packing up his or her belongings and saying goodbye to coworkers. And there is certainly no need, under normal circumstances, to have someone escorted to the door by a security guard or supervisor. Additionally, if you have presented the employee with a severance offer, he or she should be given time to review the information you have provided. “You shouldn’t expect the person to respond right away, but should give them at least a few days to review the details, consult their advisors, and get back to you
Get off to a good start for an easier end: Entrepreneurs have workers sign an employment contract when they’re hired. This should outline working conditions and severance to be paid in case of termination.
Written Employment Contracts
If you have a written contract or other statement that promises you job security, you have a strong argument that you are not an at-will employee. For example, you may have an employment contract stating that you can only be fired with good cause or for reasons stated in the contract. Or, you may have an offer letter or other written document that makes promises about your continued employment. If so, you might be able to enforce those promises in court.
The existence of an implied employment contract an agreement based on things your employer said and did is another exception to the at-will rule. This can be difficult to prove because most employers are very careful not to make promises of continued employment. But implied contracts have been found where employers promised “permanent employment” or employment for a specific period of time or where employers set forth specific forms of progressive discipline in an employee manual. In deciding whether an implied employment contract exists, courts look at a number of things, including:
duration of your employment
regularity of job promotions
history of positive performance reviews
assurances that you would have continuing employment
whether your employer violated a usual employment practice in firing you—such as neglecting to give a required warning, or
whether promises of long-term employment were made when you were hired.
Breaches of Good Faith and Fair Dealing
If your employer acted unfairly, you may have a claim for a breach of a duty of good faith and fair dealing. Courts have found that employers breached the duty of good faith and fair dealing by:
• firing or transferring employees to prevent them from collecting sales commissions
• misleading employees about their chances for promotions and wage increases
• fabricating reasons for firing an employee when the real motivation is to replace that employee with someone who will work for lower pay
• soft-pedaling the bad aspects of a particular job, such as the need to travel through dangerous neighborhoods late at night, and
• repeatedly transferring an employee to remote, dangerous, or otherwise undesirable assignments to coerce the employee into quitting without collecting severance pay or other benefits that would normally be due.
Some courts don’t recognize the “good faith and fair dealing” exception to at-will employment. And some states require that a valid employment contract exists before employees can sue for a breach of good faith and fair dealing.
Violations of Public Policy
It is illegal to violate public policy when firing a worker—that is, to fire for reasons that society recognizes as illegitimate grounds for termination. Before a wrongful termination claim based on a violation of public policy will be allowed, most courts require that there be some specific law setting out the policy. Many state and federal laws have specified employment-related actions that clearly violate public policy, such as firing an employee for:
• disclosing a company practice of refusing to pay employees their earned commissions and accrued vacation pay
• taking time off work to serve on a jury
• taking time off work to vote
• serving in the military or National Guard, or
• notifying authorities about some wrongdoing harmful to the public (whistle-blowing).
Some states also protect employees from being fired for very specific reasons, like service as an election officer or volunteer firefighter. Some courts have also held that employers cannot fire you because you took advantage of a legal remedy or exercised a legal right—such as filing a workers’ compensation claim or reporting a violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).
When you need legal help for your business in Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506