FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Discrimination in Employment
The Labor Commission Antidiscrimination & Labor Division does not have the authority to investigate claims for failure to hire, so you should consult a private attorney who can give you advice on whether you can bring a lawsuit in court. On the other hand, if you believe that a company refused to hire you because of your race, color, national origin, religion, gender, pregnancy, age (if over 40) or disability, you can file a claim for employment discrimination with the Antidiscrimination & Labor Division.
In Utah, there is a big difference between an unfair termination and an unlawful termination. In other words, it might be unfair that employer fired you, but that does not necessarily mean that it was illegal or that you can bring a claim for it. This is because employment in Utah is presumed to be "at-will" which means that an employee hired for an indefinite period is presumed to be an employee who can be terminated at any time, for any reason or for no reason at all. In other words, and by way of example, your employer can decide to let you go, even if you are their best employee, even if they don’t give you any warnings, and even if you have actually done nothing wrong.
However, there are three exceptions to this general at-will rule. An employer cannot fire you if doing so would be: (1) unlawful discrimination (2) a violation of an employment contract or (3) a violation of public policy. The law also gives protection to whistle-blowers in some situations.
Unlawful discrimination. An employer cannot fire you because of your race, color, national origin, religion, gender, pregnancy, age (if over 40) or disability. An employer also cannot fire you for asking for a reasonable accommodation, for complaining about unlawful discrimination, or for participating in an employment discrimination investigation.
The Utah Antidiscrimination & Labor Division has authority to investigate claims of employment discrimination/discriminatory termination. Please contact the Division for help in filing a claim, or to learn more about employment discrimination claims in general.
Employment Contract. In rare cases, an employer agrees (either in writing or orally) to employ someone for a particular time or for a particular task. For example, an employer may agree to hire you for a year, or to complete the installation of a new computer system. In such situations, it could be that the employer also agrees that you can be terminated only for cause, or only at the completion of the time or task for which you were hired. In such situations, if an employer lets you go without cause before the end of the agreed employment time, you could bring a claim for a breach of employment contract in court. The Utah Antidiscrimination & Labor Division does not have the authority to investigate claims for breach of employment contract, so you should consult a private attorney who can give you advice on whether you can bring a claim.
Public Policy. Utah law prohibits an employer from firing you if your termination would violate clear and substantial Utah public policy. This is a very narrow exception to the general rule that an employer can fire you at-will. Examples of terminations that would violate public policy would be if you were fired for:
- refusing to file false tax returns
- refusing to file false customs documents
- refusing to mislead a safety inspector
- refusing to notarize a signature when the person who signed is not present
- refusing to present a consumer with misleading information
- 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 you for:
- serving on a jury
- responding to a subpoena
- serving in the military
Claims for wrongful termination in violation of public policy are not claims that the Antidiscrimination & Labor Division has the authority to investigate, so you should consult a private attorney who can give you advice on whether you can bring a claim.
If you are fired for exercising a legal right or privilege, in some situations, there are State and Federal agencies with which you can bring a claim. For example, you can bring a claim with:
- The Antidiscrimination & Labor Division/Wage Claim Unit if you are fired for filing a claim unpaid wages
- The Antidiscrimination & Labor Division/Employment Discrimination Unit if you are fired for complaining about discrimination, harassment or for making a reasonable accommodation request
- Utah OSHA if you are fired for threatening to inform the Labor Commission of an employer’s problems with safety procedures or to complain about unsafe working conditions
- The U.S. Department of Labor if you are fired for complaining about not being paid overtime
If you believe that you are entitled to whistle-blower protection, please contact the agency involved. There may be other State and Federal agencies which may also offer you recourse. For example, the Federal Clean Air Act, Toxic Substances Act, and Clean Water Act have special provisions protecting employee whistleblowers, and any employee who believes he or she has been discriminated against in retaliation for “blowing the whistle” on activities protected under these laws can bring a claim with the U.S. Department of Labor.
Of course, you are free to contact a private attorney who can give you advice as to your legal rights and can direct you to the proper agency or court where you can bring a claim.
Utah has no independent statute on disability determination, FMLA, or paid and/or unpaid time-off. The U.S. Department of Labor website has comprehensive information on these subjects. Utah has a statute on discrimination and it is set out at Utah Code Annotated Section 34A-5-101 et seq. Like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Utah law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability. Anyone who believes they have been subject to discrimination on a job has a right to file a charge with the Utah Antidiscrimination and Labor Division of the Utah Labor Commission.
In Utah, there is a big difference between unfair treatment and unlawful treatment. In other words, your employer might be treating you unfairly, but that does not necessarily mean that they are treating you illegally or that you can bring a claim for it.
However, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against you by treating you unfairly or singling you out because of your race, color, national origin, religion, gender, pregnancy, age (if over 40) or disability. The Utah Antidiscrimination & Labor Division has authority to investigate claims of employment discrimination/discriminatory termination. Please contact the Division for help in filing a claim, or to learn more about employment discrimination claims in general.