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Termination in an At-Will State

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

by Staff, Spaulding Law

You always hope when hiring an employee that they will be a perfect fit for your organization. What happens when this is not the case? What if you decide you can no longer afford an employee or they are just not a good fit? If you are in a state like Utah, you have the right to terminate their employment “at-will”. This means that generally an employer can terminate an employee for any reason at any time (an employee can also quit without giving any notice). However, the Utah Labor Commission states that there are some exceptions to this right to terminate at any time for any reason.

According to Utah law, an employer may not terminate an employee when it would violate clear and substantial Utah public policy. Examples of terminating an employee in violation of public policy would be termination for:

o refusing to file false tax returns
o refusing to file false customs documents
o refusing to mislead a safety inspector
o refusing to notarize a signature when the person who signed is not present
o refusing to present a consumer with misleading information
o refusing to participate in rebate program that violates federal lending laws

It would also be a violation of public policy for an employer to fire an employee for:

o serving on a jury
o responding to a subpoena
o serving in the military

An employer should carefully review employment contracts before terminating an employee. If an employee has a contract for a specified time or task there may be an implied or express contractual term that requires dismissal for cause only. A termination of this employee may open an employer up to a claim of breach of employment contract in court.

A statute or regulation may restrict the employer’s right to terminate. An example of such a statute or regulation would be the Utah Antidiscrimination Act of 1965. This act prohibits termination for reasons of race, color, religion, sex, age (over 40), national origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, childbirth or pregnancy-related conditions. The law also provides some protection for those who blow the whistle on unlawful practices; those who ask for reasonable accommodation, complain about unlawful discrimination, and/or participate in an investigation regarding discrimination cannot be terminated for these actions alone.

Because of these exceptions, it is wise to document the reasons for termination even though an employer may have the right to terminate an employee at-will according to state law. This practice will likely be of assistance at some point should the employer face a claim of wrongful termination.

This information is made available by Spaulding Law for educational purposes only and not to provide legal advice. By using this website, you understand that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and Spaulding Law, unless you have entered into a separate representation agreement. This information should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney.

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