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March 2023: Utah Enacts Law Allowing Employers to Obtain Workplace Violence Protective Orders

28 Mar

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Update Applicable to:
All employers in the state of Utah.

What happened?
On March 14, 2023, Utah Governor Spencer J. Cox signed House Bill 324 (HB 324) into law amending Utah’s protective order statute to allow employers to petition for and obtain workplace violence protective orders against an individual who has engaged in or threatened potential workplace violence. 

What are the details?

Effective July 1, 2023, workplace violence is defined as “knowingly causing or threatening to cause bodily injury to, or significant damage to the property of” an employer or employee performing their duties as an employee. The law specifies that to obtain a restraining order, the employer must prove that an action or threat of workplace violence has occurred by showing that the underlying events giving rise to the petition cause “a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, or harassed.” In the case of a threat, it must also cause a reasonable person “to fear that the threat will be carried out.” The law expressly states that it does not prohibit a person from engaging in a constitutionally protected exercise of free speech, including non-threatening speech and speech involving labor disputes concerning organized labor, or prohibit a person from engaging in an activity that is part of a labor dispute.

HB 324 also permits an employer or an authorized agent of the employer to petition for a protective order if the employer reasonably believes workplace violence has occurred against the employer or an employee. This mechanism was not previously available to employers under Utah law. Suppose the employer petitions for a workplace violence protective order and knows that a specific individual is the target of workplace violence. In that case, the employer must make a good-faith effort to notify the targeted employee that the employer is seeking a workplace violence protective order.

The law allows courts to immediately enter an ex parte workplace violence protective order, if necessary, to protect the petitioner or any party named in the petition. Otherwise, workplace violence protective orders should be issued upon notice to the party against whom the order is being sought and a hearing. If the protective order is issued ex parte, the court must hold a hearing on the petition within 21 days of issuance unless certain exceptions are met. A workplace violence protective order issued after notice and a hearing will be in effect as long as the court determines necessary to protect the individual. However, it cannot exceed 18 months unless it is extended as outlined in the statute.

The court may grant any of the following relief with a workplace violence protective order:

  1. Enjoin the perpetrator from committing workplace violence.
  2. Enjoin the perpetrator from threatening the employer or employee of the petitioner while performing the employee’s duties.
  3. Order the perpetrator to stay away from the petitioner’s workplace.

Of importance, the protective order must be narrowly tailored to the location where the perpetrator caused or threatened to cause bodily injury or significant damage to the property of the employer or an employee.

Violating a workplace violence protective order is a class A misdemeanor.

The law also provides certain liability protections for employers. Specifically, an employer is immune from civil liability for (1) seeking a workplace violence protective order “if the employer acts in good faith in seeking the order; or (2) for failing to seek a workplace violence protective order.”

For more information, please see the links below:

House Bill 324 (HB 324)

Article

What do employers need to do?
Employers should review the links provided above, maintain open lines of communication when addressing legitimate concerns and fears employees may have about workplace violence, and consider consulting with experienced counsel for emergencies before and/or after they happen.

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This communication is intended solely for the purpose of conveying information. The present post might incorporate hyperlinks directing readers to websites managed by third-party entities. The inclusion of any links within this communication is meant to serve as points of reference and could encompass opinion articles from various law firms, articles from HR associations, official websites, news releases, and documents of government agencies, and other relevant third-party sources. Vensure has no authority over these external websites and bears no responsibility for their content. Furthermore, Vensure does not endorse the materials present on these websites. The contents of this communication should not be interpreted as legal advice or as a legal standpoint concerning specific facts or scenarios. Nor should it be deemed an exhaustive compilation of facts potentially pertinent to federal, state, or local laws. It is strongly advised that employers solicit legal guidance from an employment attorney when undertaking actions in response to any legal updates provided. This is due to the possibility of future alterations occurring in federal, state, and local laws, regulations, as well as the directives and guidelines issued by governing agencies. These changes may transpire at any given time, potentially rendering certain portions of the content within this update void or inaccurate.

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