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Utah has seen a decent increase in its working population in recent years. From around 1.6 million workers in 2020, the number of employed individuals in the Beehive State has risen to 1.8 million, according to 2023 figures. Utah’s rising workforce helped the state maintain a regular employment-population ratio of around 65 in the past five years, thanks to more Utahns entering the legal working age.

Despite its relatively steady workforce and employment, Utah is not without its faults. It still has to deal with belligerent employers committing employment and labor law violations, such as wrongfully terminating employees and violating federal laws on employing minors

 This article will discuss these issues among Utah employees, but first, it would be useful to look at the difference between employment and labor laws. According to the Georgetown University Law Center, employment law deals with matters and issues between the employee and the employer, while labor law deals with matters between the employer and a group of employees in a labor union. 

This distinction between employment and labor laws is important because the power dynamics between the two situations are different. Employees dealing with their employer on their own might be at a disadvantage unless they have guidance from an employment lawyer. In contrast, a labor union has more leverage to negotiate fairly with employers.

Wrongful termination is within the scope of employment law and will be the focus of this article. It will discuss the grounds for wrongful termination, where to file your case, and how much you can get in damages if your employer has fired you illegally. 

Utah’s Right to Work Law

Utah has a state law specifically protecting a person’s right to work. This law declares that the right to work is an indispensable component of the right to live. 

The right to work is also tied to a worker’s right to join a union. Utah law prohibits employers from denying or curtailing your right to work because of your membership in a union, labor organization, or any other type of association.

Conversely, if you are not a part of any labor group, you may not be required to join one against your will. Utah makes it illegal for employers and labor unions to enter into any agreement that will prevent non-union members from being employed. 

In sum, employers may not require union membership or non-membership as an initial or continuing condition for employment. Violating a person’s right to work is a misdemeanor in Utah, and the law gives the victim the right to damages

Utah Wage and Wage Notice Laws

Utah has no state-specific statute dictating the minimum wage in current dollar values. The state instead adopts the federally set minimum via administrative action, which in recent years has been $7.25 an hour. This applies to both adult and minor employees, though employers can pay a reduced rateof $4.25 an hour to minor employees as training wages for the first 90 days they are employed.

Employers must give workers their wages at least semimonthly unless they are employed on a yearly salary basis. If that’s the case, they can be paid once a month on or before the 7th of each month. If their payday lands on a weekend or holiday, then they get paid the day before the weekend or holiday. Workers must be paid in cash, checks payable in cash, or via electronic transfer to a depository institution of their choice.

Employers are legally responsible for providing notice of regular paydays to their employees. This notice can be given either by personally informing the employee when hiring them or by posting this information at or near a conspicuous place of work. 

Required Labor Law Posters in Utah

On the topic of posting notices, Utah requires employers to put up posters of certain labor laws in their places of business. The two main ones are the workers’ compensation notice and the Utah Occupational Safety and Health notice. The Utah Labor Commission, the Utah Department of Workforce Services, and the federal government may also require workplaces to post notices for the following laws:

  • Fair Labor Standards Act, for employers engaged in interstate commerce.

  • Employee Polygraph Protection Act, for employers subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act.

  •  Family and Medical Leave Act, for employers with 50 or more employees within 75 miles of the employer’s place of business.

  • Walsh-Healey Public Contracts Act is for employers and subcontractors working with federal contracts.

  • Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act to protect the rights of employees who leave their jobs for military service.

  • Unemployment Insurance Notice to Workers, for employers subject to the Utah Employment Security Act.

Utah Drug Testing Law

Moving on to laws that impact workplace productivity and safety, Utah statutes allow employers to conduct drug and alcohol tests on their employees, provided they and management staff periodically submit themselves to the same tests as well. For workplaces that handle highly radioactive material, these tests are mandatory. 

Drug or alcohol tests must be done either during an employee’s work hours or immediately after. The tests are considered work hours to calculate the employees’ wages or overtime pay. Utah law requires the testing to be done in reasonable and sanitary conditions and give due regard to the employee’s privacy while leaving no room for possible intervention or substitution of the samples collected.

Employers may take disciplinary or rehabilitative action if an employee fails the test. The failed test result is confirmed by a secondary test required by law, and having a failed test is considered a violation of the employer’s written policy on drug or alcohol use. 

Employees who refuse to provide a sample for testing may also be subject to disciplinary or rehabilitative actions, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Suspension without pay.

  • Mandatory enrollment in a rehabilitation or treatment program.

  • Termination.

Family Employment Program Law

Another way the state improves workplace productivity is by providing disadvantaged groups with different forms of assistance. Utah statutes have established a government program that provides employment counseling and financial assistance to eligible parents.

Within 30 days of enrolling in Utah’s Family Employment Program, the state provides you with an employment counselor and tasks you with completing an assessment to determine your current employment eligibility, previous work experience, and skill set. You get a state-made employment plan within 15 days of finishing the evaluation, which includes a target date for your employment and may include factors and tasks such as job searching requirements and work training.

The financial assistance the Family Employment Program provides is available for single-parent and two-parent families, provided they satisfy state requirements on the following:

While Utah recommends getting childcare assistance from family, parents in a single- or two-parent family may also request child care assistance from the state. The law provides an exception, however: two-parent families are disqualified from requesting child care assistance if the non-applicant spouse can care for the family’s child, is not employed, and is not engaged in an employment plan with the department overseeing the Family Employment Program.

Is Utah an At-Will Employment State?

Utah is an at-will employment state. This means that the employer or employee can terminate their employment contract at any time and for any reason, except in the following situations:

  • There is an implied or expressed agreement that employment can only end with a valid reason or upon fulfilling a specific condition that was agreed upon.

  • There is a law or rule that limits the employer’s ability to terminate the services of an employee under specific circumstances. 

  • Ending employment is a violation of clear and substantial public policy.

Utah courts have identified four categories that fall under the third exception listed above.

  • An employee is terminated for refusing to commit an illegal or wrongful act.

  • An employee is terminated for performing a public obligation. 

  • An employee is terminated for exercising a legal right or privilege.

  • An employee is terminated for reporting an employer’s criminal activities to the appropriate authorities.

What Qualifies as Wrongful Termination in Utah?

Wrongful termination is a form of employment discrimination. It occurs when an employer fires an employee on grounds that violate the employment contract, public policy, and state laws. Although Utah is an at-will employment state, under its Antidiscrimination Act, an employer may not terminate a person because of the following characteristics:

  • Race.

  • Color.

  • Sex.

  • Pregnancy, childbirth, or pregnancy-related conditions.

  • Age, if the individual is 40 years of age or older.

  • Religion.

  • National origin.

  • Disability.

  • Sexual orientation.

  • Gender identity.

Another instance of wrongful termination is when an employee is fired despite the stipulations in their contract. If the employment contract states a specific period during which the employee is to work at their job, then they are not considered an at-will employee. The state’s at-will employment doctrine does not apply to them.

Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against employees who engage in legally protected activities. These include opposing workplace discrimination, filing complaints about unpaid wages, refusing to participate in illegal actions, taking time off for personal or civic duties, whistleblowing, filing workers’ compensation claims, or participating in discrimination investigations.

How Do You Report an Employer in Utah for Wrongful Termination?

If you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated from your job, there are ways to get legal compensation, depending on your circumstances.

An employee who was terminated in violation of Utah’s Antidiscrimination Act can file a charge of employment discrimination with the Utah Labor Commission’s Antidiscrimination and Labor Division. The filing deadline is 180 days from the wrongful termination incident.

If the employee misses the 180-day window but still files their charge within 300 days of the termination in question, then the UALD will transfer the charge to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for investigation. 

If you have a case at the UALD, it will attempt to resolve your conflict with your employer through mediation. If mediation fails, the division will begin investigation efforts before deciding. If you are unsatisfied with the UALD’s decision, you may appeal it to the Utah Labor Commission or the EEOC.

If the wrongful termination arises from a breach of contract, then you can file a lawsuit for compensation and damages against your employer in civil courts. The deadline for filing this type of lawsuit is discussed in the following section.

Whatever the case, it is advisable to retain legal counsel if you believe you have been wrongfully terminated. Attorneys experienced in the state’s labor laws can assist you in getting the appropriate amount of legal compensation according to the circumstances of your case.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Termination Cases in Utah?

For wrongful termination cases based on breaches of contract, the statutes of limitations depend on the type of employment contract between the parties. 

Utah acknowledges not only formal written contracts but also informal agreements such as oral contracts and statements in an employee handbook. Implied employment contracts can also arise from employers’ actions that deviate from the usual practices of at-will employment. 

If the breach comes from a written employment contract, then the employee has six years following the incident to bring their case to court. If the breach comes from an oral employment contract, the employee has four years from the incident date to file a case for wrongful termination.

How Much Can Someone Sue an Employer in Utah for Wrongful Termination?

How much you can sue someone for wrongful termination depends on two factors: 

  • Where you decide to bring your case. 

  • Expenses you incurred or damages you suffered because of the violation.

You will be awarded compensatory damages for the expenses you incurred. In addition, if your employer is found to have acted egregiously out of line when they dismissed you, you may also receive punitive damages.

If you file a charge with the UALD or EEOC, you will get around $5,000 to $9,000 in settlement money through mediation or investigation decisions. If you bring your case to court, you can recover damages of around $110,000 to $400,000. 

Either way, the authority handling your case will generally take into account the following when deciding on your legal compensation:

  • Reason for discharge.

  • Benefits lost.

  • Job searching costs.

  • Medical expenses.

  • Lost wages.

  • Emotional distress.

Legal Resources for Employees in Utah

Understanding your rights and remedies concerning labor and employment is crucial, whether starting your first entry-level job or encountering challenges in your current workplace. Aside from staying informed, knowing the right tools and resources to help you navigate labor-related issues is equally important. In today’s age, various resources are available to assist employees in understanding their rights, resolving disputes, and seeking guidance.

Utah Legal Services

Utah Legal Services is a valuable resource for employees at a financial disadvantage, offering no-cost legal assistance to individuals and families in non-criminal matters. The ULS addresses a range of concerns, including employment and labor disputes. However, note that the ULS can only accept a limited number of cases. Eligibility depends on whether the case aligns with the organization's services and whether the applicant meets the specified low-income criteria.

Utah Dispute Resolution

Utah Dispute Resolution is a nonprofit organization that provides free or low-cost mediation services to parties who wish to settle workplace disputes with the assistance of an impartial third party. It provides a safe and supportive environment, allowing the parties to share their perspectives, express their needs and interests, and better understand each other’s points of view. The UDR supports mediation to facilitate the resolution of disputes without the need for expensive court litigation.

BYU Community Legal Clinic

The BYU Community Legal Clinic is run by the BYU Law School, and cases are handled by second- and third-year law students under the supervision of licensed lawyers. This clinic mainly helps with immigration issues but also provides aid to clients with other legal matters, such as employment, contract, and housing law cases. The clinic, which focuses on representing those with low or modest means, can refer people to other organizations or legal counsel if it cannot provide sufficient aid for prospective clients.

S.J. Quinney College of Law Pro Bono Initiative

The S.J. Quinney College of Law’s Pro Bono Initiative is a volunteer program where the school’s law students collaborate with supervising attorneys to provide free legal consultations to Utah’s community on issues related to immigration, employment, housing, and discrimination. The program works year-round and partners with community organizations to provide legal advice and aid to clients at various locations.

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