On March 12, 2015, Governor Gary Herbert signed S.B. 296 into law, ushering in new legal protections in employment and housing for Utah’s LGBT population. With respect to employment, the new law, which has been referred to as the Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedom Amendments (the “Amendments”), prohibits an employer from refusing to hire, promote, discharge, demote, or terminate an otherwise qualified person because of the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Sexual orientation under the Amendments includes not only a person’s actual orientation as heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, but also his or her perceived orientation. The definition for gender identity under the Amendments is tied to the definition used in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) and can be shown by providing evidence, such as medical history and care or treatment of the gender identity, to show that the gender identity is sincerely held, part of a person’s core identity, and not being asserted for an improper purpose.

The Amendments, which were publicly backed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also contain a number of protections related to religious liberties, which was a critical compromise in the bill. The law does not apply to a religious organization, religious corporation sole, religious association, religious society, religious educational institution, or a religious leader, when that individual is acting in the capacity of a religious leader. The law also expressly exempts the Boy Scouts of America and its councils, chapters, or subsidiaries.

The Amendments further state that they may not be interpreted to infringe upon the freedom of expressive association or the free exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. An employee is permitted under the Amendments to express his or her religious or moral beliefs and commitments in the workplace in a reasonable, non-disruptive, and non-harassing way on equal terms with similar types of expression of beliefs or commitments allowed by the employer in the workplace, unless the expression is in direct conflict with the essential business-related interests of the employer.

Furthermore, an employer may not discriminate against an otherwise qualified individual for lawful expression or expressive activity outside of the workplace regarding the person’s religious, political, or personal convictions, including convictions about marriage, family or sexuality, unless the expression or expressive activity is in direct conflict with the essential business-related interests of the employer.