“Employment at will” is a legal contract whereby an employer hires an employee for an indefinite period that can be ended at any time, for any or no reason, without prior notice and by either party. The statements “I quit” or “you’re fired” are the only requirements needed to end an at-will employment. In Utah, any employment contract is presumed to be at-will, unless the employer specifically provides in the employment contract that the employee can only be fired for cause, or there is an implied termination for cause contract based on the employer’s statements or actions to the employee.
This is not to say an at-will employee doesn’t have rights. An employer cannot fire an at-will employee for discriminatory reasons. Employees are protected from being fired for reasons relating to:
- Nation of origin
- Pregnancy or possibility of future pregnancy
- Sexual orientation
In addition, an employer cannot fire an employee in retaliation for exercising certain employment rights. For example, if an employee brings a claim of harassment against an employer, that employee cannot be fired in retaliation. Similarly, employees can miss work for certain activities protected by law, such as voting or providing military service. Under the Family Medical Leave Act, a new parent who is a primary caregiver can take up to 12 weeks off to care for a newborn. Further, an employee cannot be fired for reporting safety violations at work or for refusing to perform an illegal act.
Wrongful Termination Claims
If an employer breaks the law by firing an employee illegally — even an at-will employee — that employee can bring a lawsuit for wrongful termination. Potential damages for a wrongful termination claim include reinstatement to the position, back pay, punitive damages and attorney’s fees.
If you are involved in an employment contract dispute, contact an experienced employment law attorney to discuss the legal ramifications.