Utah Wrongful Termination Laws
Have you recently lost your job? If so, you might be wondering whether you have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit. In Utah, as in other states, employees work at will. This means an employee can generally be fired at any time and for any reason, or for no reason at all.
But there are some exceptions to the at-will rule. For example, if your Utah employer fires you for discriminatory reasons, in violation of an employment contract, or in retaliation for exercising your rights, you may have a legal claim against your employer for wrongful termination.
Every state’s laws on wrongful termination are different. This article covers some of the common legal grounds you might have for suing your Utah employer for wrongful termination. But it’s not a comprehensive list of Utah employment rights, which can change as courts issue new rulings and legislators pass or modify laws. To find out the full extent of your legal claims, speak to an experienced Utah employment lawyer. To learn more about Utah employment law, contact the office of the Utah Labor Commission.
Under federal law, it is illegal for an employer to fire an employee based on a protected characteristic. Federal law prohibits employers from firing employees based on race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, age (if the employee is at least 40), disability, citizenship status, or genetic information. However, only employers with a minimum number of employees must comply with these laws. Most types of discrimination are prohibited once an employer has at least 15 employees. However, the minimum is 20 employees for age discrimination and four employees for citizenship status discrimination.
Utah law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, disability, age (40 and older), sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV or AIDS status, and genetic information. Utah employers must comply with these laws if they have at least fifteen employees.
These laws also make it illegal for an employer to retaliate against you for asserting your rights. For example, if you complain to your company’s HR department that you believe you were passed over for promotion because of your age, your employer may not discipline or fire you for your complaint. Likewise, your employer cannot fire you for participating in an investigation of a discrimination complaint (no matter who made the complaint), testifying in court, or making other efforts to stop discriminatory practices.
Before filing a discrimination or retaliation lawsuit, you must file a complaint with the appropriate government agency. The Antidiscrimination & Labor Division of Utah’s Labor Commission enforces the state’s laws prohibiting discrimination; the agency has offices in Salt Lake City. In many cases, state fair employment practices agencies will record your complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency that enforces federal antidiscrimination laws. However, you should check to make sure. If not, you may also have to file a complaint with the EEOC; you can find contact information for the nearest office at the EEOC’s Field Offices page.
Breach of Contract
If you have a written employment contract promising you job security, you are not an at-will employee. Utah also recognizes implied employment contracts based on oral promises, statements in an employee handbook, or a course of conduct that shows an employer's intention to limit its right to terminate at will. For example, if your employer promised you that you would have a job as long as you performed well, you may have an implied contract. If you have an employment contract, and your employer fires you without good cause, you have a legal claim for breach of contract.
Wage and Hour Issues
The minimum wage in Utah is $7.25 per hour. Although Utah has no overtime law, federal law requires employers to pay overtime to employees who work more than 40 hours in a workweek. Neither Utah nor federal law requires employers to provide meal or rest breaks. However, under federal law, employers who choose to provide breaks of 20 minutes or less must generally pay employees for that time. Employers must also pay their employees for any time during which they must work, even if the employer characterizes that time as a “break.” Employers may not fire employees for making wage complaints, testifying in wage proceedings, or planning to do either.
Time Off Work
State and federal laws give employees the right to take time off work for certain civic obligations and personal responsibilities. Employers may not discipline or fire workers for exercising these rights. In Utah, these rights include:
- Military leave. Under federal law, employees have the right to take up to five years of leave to serve in the military, with the right to be reinstated when they return to work. (This law also prohibits discrimination against employees based on their military service, protects employees from discharge without good cause for up to one year after they return from military duty, and provides other protections; see Nolo’s article Taking Military Leave for more information.) Utah law allows members of the U.S. Armed Forces reserves who are called to active duty, active duty for training, inactive duty training, or state active duty, to take a leave of absence from work for up to five years, with reinstatement when their military service is complete.
- Jury duty. In Utah, employees are entitled to unpaid leave for jury service. Employers may not threaten or coerce employees who are called to jury duty, nor may they require employees to use annual, sick, or vacation time while serving. Employers who fire or penalize employees for jury service are subject to criminal sanctions and special damages in a wrongful termination lawsuit.
- Voting leave. Utah employers must allow employees to take two hours of paid leave to vote, at the beginning or end of their shifts. Employees are not entitled to time off if they have at least three hours off work while the polls are open.
- Family and medical leave. Utah employees are protected by the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks off, unpaid, every year for a serious health condition, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, to care for a new child, or to handle certain practical matters arising out of a family member’s military service. Employees can take up to 26 weeks off in a single year to care for a family member who is seriously injured while serving in the military. Employees who take FMLA leave must be reinstated to the same position once their leave is over. To learn more, see Nolo’s FMLA page.
- Leave to attend court. Employers must provide unpaid time off to any parent, guardian, or legal custodian whose minor child is required to appear in court.
Other State Claims
- Workers' compensation. Employers may not fire employees for filing workers' compensation claims.
- Reporting illegal activity. Employers may not fire employees for reporting an employer's illegal activity to a government authority or for refusing to participate in illegal activity.
- Personal beliefs. Employers may not fire or otherwise retaliate against employees for expressing their religious, political, moral, or personal beliefs outside of the workplace.
What to Do Next
If you think you were fired illegally, talk to a Utah employment lawyer. Whether you want to get your job back, negotiate a settlement, or file a lawsuit, a lawyer can help you assert your legal rights. A lawyer can also inform you of any other claims that you might have under state or local law.