Tag Archives: Utah

March 7, 2017

Utah Payment of Wages Act Amendments Passed

By Bryan Benard

On March 7, 2017, the Utah Legislature passed a bill amending certain provisions of the Utah Payment of Wages Act (“UPWA”). H.B. 238 was sponsored by Representative Tim Hawkes and if signed into law by the Governor, will make three primary changes to the law.

Individual Liability For Payment of Wages 

First, the bill changes the definition of “employer” from a unique Utah definition to the definition of employer as used in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). The change will allow case interpretation of the FLSA definition of employer to apply to Utah employers under the UPWA. The reason behind this change is to clarify that in certain situations, individual directors and officers of companies may be held individually liable for the non-payment of wages. In a 2015 case, the Utah Supreme Court had ruled that there was no individual liability under the UPWA (Heaps v. Nuriche, 2015 UT 26), causing the Utah legislature to take action this session to effectively overrule that decision, replacing it with the individual liability standards applicable under the FLSA.

Private Cause of Action 

Second, this new law expressly creates a private cause of action for wages under the UPWA. This change also was prompted by a court ruling, namely Self v. TPUSA, Inc., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10822, D.Utah Jan. 16, 2009, in which the federal court in Utah suggested that there was no private right of action under the UPWA. After the effective date of the new amendments, a private citizen clearly has the right to file a lawsuit to recover payment of wages under the UPWA in Utah state court. The amendments also provide that Utah state courts may award actual damages (i.e., the unpaid wages), a potential penalty for the violation, and an amount equal to 2.5% of the unpaid wages owed for up to 20 days.

Administrative Process Mandatory For Smaller Wage Claims 

Finally, the new law requires that certain wage claims alleging a violation of the UPWA be filed first with the Utah Labor Commission. Currently, employees “may” file a wage claim at the Commission. After enactment, all wage claims that are less than $10,000 must first be filed with the Labor Commission and the party must exhaust the administrative remedies there on such claims. Claims that are greater than $10,000, employees with multiple claims (that aggregate above $10,000), or multiple employees in the same civil action whose claims together are greater than $10,000, may file such claims directly in court without exhausting the administrative remedies.

Next Steps 

Utah employers should certainly take note of these changes, and specifically the potential for individual liability of directors and officers for the payment of wages. It is also worth watching to see if the new express private right of action increases the amounts of wage claims brought in Utah.

October 14, 2013

“Pretaliatory” Firing Recognized as Wrongful Discharge Claim in Utah

By Elizabeth T. Dunning 

Does an employee have to actually file a workers’ compensation claim to be protected from retaliatory termination?  No, says the Utah Court of Appeals.  In the recent Stone v. M&M Welding and Constr. Inc. decision, the Court ruled that an employee who was fired after expressing his intention to file a workers’ compensation claim could pursue a retaliatory discharge claim even though he failed to actually file his worker’s comp claim until eight months after he was fired.  

Employee Discusses Desire to File Workers’ Compensation Claim 

Terry Lee Stone was injured at a party hosted by M&M Welding and Construction in November of 2009.  Within days of the injury, Stone informed the company president that he wanted to file a workers’ compensation claim.  The president dissuaded Stone from doing so, instead holding his position open for two months until he could return to work.  Upon his return, however, Stone’s hours were reduced.  In March and April of 2010, Stone again informed the company that he intended to file a workers’ compensation claim, but failed to do so. 

In early May, a customer demanded that Stone be fired, believing that he exaggerated in reporting a spill of contaminated water at the customer’s site. A few days later, Stone contacted M&M to obtain insurance information for his workers’ compensation claim.  M&M fired him the following day.  Stone sued, alleging that M&M terminated him in retaliation for expressing his intent to file a workers’ compensation claim.  M&M argued that because Stone did not file his workers’ compensation claim until eight months after he was fired, his termination could not be in retaliation of the filing.  The trial court agreed, awarding summary judgment to M&M. 

Utah Court of Appeals Rules that Notifying Employer of Intent to File Workers’ Compensation Claim is Enough 

On appeal, the Court pointed to the Utah Supreme Court’s decision in Touchard v. La-Z-Boy Inc. which recognized that “retaliatory discharge for filing a workers’ compensation claim violates the public policy of this state; thus, an employee who has been fired or constructively discharged in retaliation for claiming workers’ compensation benefits has a wrongful discharge cause of action.”  In Stone, the Court of Appeals extended the basis for a wrongful discharge claim by concluding that conduct short of actually filing a workers’ compensation claim was protected conduct.  The Court wrote that preparing a claim, notifying the employer of the intent to file a claim or discussing his claim with coworkers could be sufficient to support a claim of retaliatory discharge.  In Stone’s case, he had repeatedly expressed to the company president and others that he intended to file a workers’ compensation claim so that conduct was sufficient to proceed with his retaliatory discharge lawsuit.


Policy Behind Recognizing “Pretaliatory” Discharge 

The Court recognized that a rule that protected employees only after they actually filed a workers’ compensation claim “would create a perverse incentive for an employer to discharge an injured employee as soon as the employer learns of the employee’s intention to file a claim.”  The Court found such a rule would contradict the important public policy embodied in the state’s workers’ compensation act. 

The Court’s ruling also squares with the conduct that can underlie a retaliation claim under other employment laws.  For example, retaliation claims under Title VII can be based on conduct where the employee either opposes workplace discrimination or participates in a discrimination claim, investigation or proceeding.  “Opposing” discrimination can include the threat of filing a discrimination charge as well as complaining about or reporting discrimination at work.   The Stone decision recognizing a retaliation wrongful discharge claim based on an employee’s expressed intent to file a workers’ compensation claim is analogous to the “opposition” retaliation claims recognized in such other employment laws. 

Employer Take-Aways 

Employers should be careful when making adverse employment decisions related to an employee who has either filed a workers’ compensation claim or is preparing to do so. Decisions should be unrelated to the claim or threat of claim and should be based on a reason that can be clearly articulated and is supported by thorough documentation.  Anything less may lead the affected employee to conclude that the adverse action was in retaliation for the workers’ compensation claim and make it difficult to defend a retaliation lawsuit.

Disclaimer: This article is designed to provide general information on pertinent legal topics. The statements made are provided for educational purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and are not intended to create an attorney-client relationship between you and Holland & Hart LLP. If you have specific questions as to the application of the law to your activities, you should seek the advice of your legal counsel.

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July 22, 2013

Myriad of Social Media Privacy Laws Create Havoc for Multi-State Employers

By Elizabeth Dunning 

ComputerDoes your company request that your employees and applicants provide user names and passwords to their personal social media accounts?  Do you require applicants to log onto their online accounts in your presence so that you can view their content?  Perhaps you ask employees to “friend” their supervisors.  If you haven’t followed new developments in state employment laws, you may not realize that such activities are unlawful in some states.  In just two years, eleven states have passed social media privacy laws that prevent employers from accessing employees’ and applicants’ personal online accounts.  Each state law differs in certain respects, making it difficult for multi-state employers to adopt a uniform and consistent social media policy.  To help sort things out, we highlight here the primary differences in the state social media privacy laws. 

States with Workplace Social Media or Internet Privacy Laws 

The eleven states that have enacted social media or internet privacy laws affecting employers to-date are:  Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington.  All but one of these states protect the access information for both current and prospective employees, with New Mexico only protecting the log-in information of applicants. 

Differences in State Social Media Laws 

Generally, all of these states prohibit an employer from requesting or requiring an employee or applicant to disclose his or her user name, password or other means of accessing his or her personal social media accounts. Many of these states also make it unlawful to discipline, discharge, discriminate against or penalize an employee, or fail to hire an applicant who refuses to disclose his or her access information to personal social media accounts.  However, that’s where the uniformity in the laws generally ends.  The following chart highlights numerous key differences between the state laws. 

Legal Provision

States Recognizing Provision

Prohibits employers from requesting that employee add employer representative or another employee to his or her list of contacts (e.g., “friend”)

Arkansas, Colorado, Oregon and Washington

Prohibits employers from requesting employee to access his or her personal social media account in the presence of the employer (“shoulder surfing”)

California, Michigan, Oregon and Washington

Prohibits employers from requesting employee to change the privacy settings on his or her personal social media accounts

Arkansas, Colorado and Washington

Specifically permits employers to view and access social media accounts that are publicly available

Arkansas, Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon and Utah

Exception when access required to comply with laws or regulations of self-regulatory organizations

Arkansas, Nevada, Oregon and Washington

Exception for investigations of employee violation of law or employee misconduct

Arkansas, California, Michigan, Oregon, Utah and Washington (Colorado and Maryland limit this exception to investigation of securities or financial law compliance)

Exception for investigation of unauthorized downloading of employer’s proprietary, confidential or financial data

Colorado, Maryland, Michigan, Utah and Washington

Inadvertent acquisition of personal log-in information while monitoring employer systems not a violation but employer not permitted to use the log-in information to access personal social media accounts

Arkansas, Oregon and Washington

As you can see, the differences in the laws exceed the similarities, making it difficult for an employer operating in more than one covered state to comply with all applicable provisions.  Even the definition of covered social media accounts varies by state, creating even more inconsistencies. 

Would a Federal Law Help? 

With eleven laws in place and almost 20 additional states considering social media privacy bills, the issue seems ripe for a federal bill that would bring some uniformity to the protections offered to employees and applicants.  In February 2013, the Social Networking Online Protection Act, which offers such workplace protections, was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives.  Unfortunately, it has languished in committee and is not expected to pass.  In addition, a federal law on the issue will likely only simplify the web of state laws if it specifically preempts state law.  Without federal preemption, we might face two sources of law on the issue, federal and state, which might muddy the waters even more.  In any event, it does not appear that a federal law will be enacted before additional states enact their own laws, leaving employers to struggle with the variances in state law. 

Best Practices for Complying with Social Media Privacy Laws 

With the vast amount of information available on social media and the increased use of social networking platforms for business purposes, it is likely that most employers will at some point need to access or review content on an employee’s or applicant’s social media account.  Perhaps it will be for an investigation of an employee who downloaded proprietary information or perhaps it will be to confirm derogatory statements about the company made by an employee.  Whatever the reason, the first step is to recognize that these laws exist and you will need to review which, if any, apply to your company and/or the employee involved.  Remember that you are generally free to access publicly available social media content.  However, if one of these state laws applies, consult with legal counsel before accessing (or requesting access to) any personal social media accounts to determine what restrictions and exceptions are applicable to your particular circumstances. 

Establish a social media policy specifying that employees are not permitted to disclose or post proprietary or confidential company information on their personal social media accounts.  Make a clear delineation between company/business-related social media accounts where you control who speaks on behalf of your organization, and personal accounts where employees do not represent the views of the company. Be careful that your social media policy does not run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act by interfering with employees’ right to discuss their wages and working conditions in a concerted manner.  Communicate your policy to your employees through normal channels, such as your employee handbook, online policy/intranet, etc. 

Train your supervisors, managers and human resources staff on these laws.  Sometimes supervisors or HR folks think it is acceptable to ask an employee to “friend” them online, or to ask for their log-in information to view pictures or other benign posts.  Despite good intentions, company representatives could get you into legal trouble so advise them of these laws and your restrictions on requesting access to personal social media accounts.

Disclaimer: This article is designed to provide general information on pertinent legal topics. The statements made are provided for educational purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and are not intended to create an attorney-client relationship between you and Holland & Hart LLP. If you have specific questions as to the application of the law to your activities, you should seek the advice of your legal counsel.

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