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Do you have an employee on the firing line?

If you had to rank your duties as a manager or business owner from favorite to least favorite, you would probably place firing employees near the bottom of the list. You can never predict how an employee will respond when told of a job loss. If this is not your first experience at termination, you may have witnessed every reaction from crying and begging to shouting and threatening a lawsuit.

Letting a worker go, even a worker who is not contributing to the success of the company, can be a difficult and stressful job. You may find yourself trying to come up with excuses to justify the firing or to soften the blow. However, the state of Utah says you do not have to have a reason for firing someone.

A battle of wills

Like many other states, Utah has "at-will" employment. This means you can fire any employee at any time without reason. You benefit from this arrangement in that it frees you from a long-term commitment to an employee and allows you to change contract and benefit terms without consequences.

However, at-will also means an employee can quit at any time, and this may create an inconvenience for you. Employees may also have other protections that may hinder your ability to fire them at will, for example:

  • A collective bargaining agreement
  • Termination policies dictated by company guidelines, public rules or contract agreement
  • State statutes

Of course, federal and state laws prevent you from firing a person as an act of discrimination or retaliation. For example, you cannot fire someone simply because of these characteristics:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Disability or health
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Whistleblowing

Therefore, while it is easy to say you may fire someone at will, you also must be aware of the limitations in place to protect people from wrongful termination.

In many states, including Utah, exceptions to the at-will rule may exist, and it would behoove you to be aware of them. For example, if there is an implied contract, either verbal or written, (such as an employee handbook) that contradicts at-will employment, your employee may be able to sue you for wrongful termination. Additionally, you may not fire someone just to avoid paying for health care or providing other benefits.

Help with the job

If you are currently facing a wrongful termination lawsuit from an employee you recently fired at will, you may find the advice of an attorney invaluable. An attorney who understands and has experience with the intricacies of employment law will be able to assist you in defending your rights.

On the other hand, if you are preparing to fire an employee, the advice of an attorney may protect you from any negative consequences.

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Stevenson & Smith, P.C. | 3986 Washington Blvd. Ogden, UT 84403 | Phone: 801-399-9910 | Fax:801-399-9954 | Map & Directions