What is the Statute of Limitations for Wage Claims under the Utah Payment of Wages Act?

As discussed in our prior post, the Utah Payment of Wages Act (UPWA) provides for wage claims to be filed to two forums: the Wage Claim Unit of the Utah Labor Commission and the courts. In general, claims for $10,000 or less are filed with the Labor Commission, and claims for over $10,000 are filed with the courts.

The UPWA is clear that wage claims filed with the Labor Commission must be filed “within one year after the day on which the wages were earned.” Utah Code § 34-28-9(1)(e). However, the UPWA does not clearly identify a deadline for filing claims with the courts. The UPWA has thus left many employers and employees (and their lawyers) in the dark as to what limitation period applies to wage claims filed with the courts. I have seen defendants argue that the one-year statute of limitation found in Utah Code § 34-28-9(1)(e) is applicable to all UPWA claims, regardless of where they are filed. However, that argument is weak because the one-year limitations period is embedded in a description of the Labor Commission’s enforcement procedure.

Recently, in Scholzen v. Scholzen Prod. Co., No. 4:20-CV-00019-DN-PK, 2020 WL 7630801 (D. Utah Dec. 22, 2020), the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah held that for UPWA claims filed in court, a three-year limitations period applies. The court reasoned, “A personal wage claim would appear to be an action afforded ‘for a liability created by the statutes of this state,’ for which the three-year statute of limitations is applicable.” Id. at *6. The court cited to Utah Code § 78B-2-305, which states, “An action may be brought within three years . . . for a liability created by the statutes of this state, . . . except where in special cases a different limitation is prescribed by the statutes of this state.”

Because Scholzen is an unpublished interpretation of a state statute by a federal court, it may not be last word on the issue. But it is helpful for employers and employees to have some guidance on what has previously been an entirely open question.