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SHRM Newsletter: Utah Rulings Impact Employers
Posted on Oct. 5, 2015

This is Utah SHRM Legal-mail no. 2015-15 prepared for Salt Lake SHRM, the Human Resources Association of Central Utah (HRACU), the Northern Utah Human Resources Association (NUHRA), the Color Country Human Resources Association (CCHRA), the Bridgerland Society for Human Resource Management and Utah at-large members of the national Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

CONTENTS:

UTAH COURT RULINGS IMPACT EMPLOYERS

-  WHEN CAN AN EMPLOYEE DEFEND HIMSELF/HERSELF AT WORK?

-  WHEN/HOW CAN AN EMPLOYER TAKE AN OFFSET AGAINST AN EMPLOYEE?

-  WHEN CAN AN EMPLOYEE SUE OUTSIDE WORKER’S COMP?

-  OTHER WAYS COURTS IMPACT EMPLOYERS

UTAH COURT RULINGS IMPACT EMPLOYERS: A trio of recent Utah court rulings will significantly impact employers and HR law in the state. One case focuses on whether employees have a right to defend themselves from dangers at work, even if they do so in violation of their employer’s policies. One ruling deals with when/how an employer can withhold money from an employee’s paycheck when the employer has an offset. A third case deals with when an employer can assert a claim against an employer outside of the worker’s compensation system. Each case is described briefly below.

WHEN CAN AN EMPLOYEE DEFEND HIMSELF/HERSELF AT WORK? The first case involved a situation where retail employees wrestled and defended themselves against shoplifters who had a gun. They did so in violation of the employer’s policy, which required them to withdraw from potentially violent situations and call the police. The employees subdued the shoplifters, but were fired afterwards for violating the policy and sued. The Utah Supreme Court found that they had a viable possible wrongful termination claim against their former employer and said, “We conclude that the policy favoring the right of self defense is a public policy of sufficient clarity and weight to qualify as an exception to the at-will employment doctrine. But we limit the exception to situations where an employee reasonably believes that force is necessary to defend against an imminent threat of serious bodily harm and the employee has no opportunity to withdraw.” The court will now go on to litigation under the newly-articulated legal standard for this question. You can find the full opinion of the court here: http://www.utcourts.gov/opinions/supopin/Ray,%20et%20al.%20v.%20Wal-Mart20150917.pdf.

WHEN/HOW CAN AN EMPLOYER TAKE AN OFFSET AGAINST AN EMPLOYEE? In the second case, the Utah Supreme Court held that an employer has a right to claim an offset against an employee’s paycheck and then later prove the offset is valid, for example, as part of a wage lawsuit brought by the employee. The relevant Utah statute allows for pay deductions if “the employer presents evidence that in the opinion of a hearing officer or an administrative law judge would warrant an offset.” The question in the case was whether an employer first had to establish, in court or before some hearing officer, the legal right to that offset before making the deduction. This would be hard to do because the Utah Code also requires that final wages be given quite quickly upon separation of employment. The court held that the employer does not have to try to get a favorable court verdict on the offset before it withholds it from the employee’s final check. You can read the full opinion here: http://www.utcourts.gov/opinions/supopin/Utley%20v.%20Mill%20Man%20Steel20150820.pdf.

WHEN CAN AN EMPLOYEE SUE OUTSIDE WORKER’S COMP? In the second case, the court indicated that if there is evidence that an employee’s supervisor knew an employee would be injured by engaging in a work-related activity, the company may be liable for an intentional tort that would take the claim outside the worker’s compensation system. The court has held that a lawsuit is not barred by the worker’s comp recovery when an employer knows or expects that an employee would be injured. The case involved an employee injured when she added chemicals to a pit. A similar operation earlier the same day had caused a chemical reaction that made workers feel sick. The trial court dismissed the employee’s claims under these facts. The appeals court ruled that the case should go to a jury. You can read the court’s decision here: http://www.utcourts.gov/opinions/supopin/Helf%20v.%20Chevron20150903.pdf.

OTHER WAYS COURTS IMPACT EMPLOYERS: Of course, courts regularly deal with and decide employment disputes, sometimes in an eye-catching manner. Here are some recent court verdicts/settlements that can serve as lessons for employers to fully-comply with HR laws. A large energy services company has agreed to pay over id="mce_marker"8 million to workers who claim they were denied overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) after the company misclassified them as exempt. A national bank has agreed to pay almost $4 million to settle a similar FLSA dispute involving the alleged misclassification (as administrative employees) of financial advisors. A national pet products store will pay over $8 million to settle FLSA overtime claims for pet groomers who alleged they also were not paid overtime. Anyone detect a pattern there? Finally, a federal court has approved a settlement of over $325 million involving a class action brought by various employees of two large software companies that allegedly had agreed do such things as: not to poach each other’s employees, cap pay packages to prevent employee bidding wars, and abstain from recruiting each other’s employees.

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Author

mikeAttorney Michael
Patrick O'Brien

Mike O’Brien is an experienced and accomplished employment attorney, media lawyer and courtroom litigator.  He is active in SHRM and has received the highest possible reviews from rating services like Martindale - Hubbell (AV rating), Chambers USA, Utah Business Legal Elite, Best Lawyers in America, Who’s Who Legal USA, and SuperLawyers.  HR Executive Online has named him as one of America’s most powerful 100 employment lawyers, but keep in mind, this does not mean he is good at moving heavy furniture.

Awards and Recognition

OBrienAV

OBrien Best

Chambers 2011 Attorney

Super Lawyers
Michael Patrick O'Brien
 

Best Lawyers In America, “Salt Lake City Best Lawyers Employment Law Lawyer Of The Year,” 2011-2012

Best Lawyers In America, First Amendment Law, Labor And Employment Law, 2005-2012

Chambers USA, Labor & Employment, 2003-2011

Employment Lawyer Of The Year, Utah State Bar, 2001

Human Resources Executive, Nation’s Most Powerful Employment Lawyers In America, 2010

Mountain States Super Lawyers, 2007-2012

Utah Business Magazine, Legal Elite, Labor And Employment, 2006-2012