Utah is an “at-will” employment state. This means that, generally speaking, either an employer or an employee may terminate their working relationship at any time, for any reason, or no reason at all. However, this doesn’t necessarily give business owners carte blanche to fire their employees. If you terminate an employee for an unlawful reason, you could find yourself subject to a lawsuit for wrongful termination.
Lawful and unlawful reasons for terminating an employee
As a business owner in an at-will employment state, you have plenty of leeway for terminating an employee. Some of the more common, lawful reasons why business owners choose to fire a worker include:
- Poor workplace performance
- Frequent tardiness or absences
- Falsifying time reports
- Failing to adhere to company policies
As you can see, there are numerous reasons why you might wish to end an employment relationship. In fact, you don’t even need a reason. However, if you terminate an employee for an illegal reason, you could find yourself in significant legal trouble. You run the risk of facing a wrongful termination lawsuit if you fire an employee for:
- Being a member of a protected class: You may not fire an employee because they are a member of a protected class. In other words, for a discriminatory reason. You cannot terminate an employee because of their race, age, gender, religious affiliation, or because of any other protected characteristic under the law.
- Reporting a problem in the workplace: If you fire an employee for reporting sexual harassment, discrimination, making a workers’ compensation claim, bringing criminal activity to your attention, or engaging in a whistleblower-protected activity, it is considered retaliation, and it is illegal.
- A reason not covered by an employment contract: If your employees enter into a valid employment contract that requires a firing only “for cause,” you cannot rely on Utah’s status as an at-will employment state. You must show that the termination was based on the criteria you outlined in the employment contract.
There are other situations where termination may violate state and federal law. You should always discuss your options with a skilled legal professional before taking any action.