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On What Grounds Can an Employee be Terminated in Wisconsin?

One of the most difficult tasks that a business owner or manager has to do is terminate an employee. The tasks of hiring and firing often fall upon the local service manager in small and medium-sized companies. You want to do what is best for your business, but at the same time, you need to make sure that you do things in a legal manner. The last thing you want is a disgruntled former employee to file a claim or cause problems in the workplace. It is best to learn the basic rules of employment in Wisconsin and seek legal guidance before you make any significant decisions.

Wisconsin is an “Employment-at-Will” State

Wisconsin is one of the many states that utilizes the “employment at-will” doctrine. Employment at will simply means that an employee and employer have the right to end employment at any time and for any reason. Employers can fire an employee at any time. Likewise, an employee can quit any time and for any reason. Generally, employers put their own guidelines in place to ensure proper treatment of employees. While you can fire someone at any time, you cannot do so for discriminatory reasons. It is often best to consult with an employment attorney before you make termination decisions.

Avoid Wrongful Discharge

Although you can fire an employee at will, you still must be aware of discriminatory firing. You cannot terminate an employee due to discrimination based on:

  • Race
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Pregnancy
  • Reporting violations

A number of laws protect employees from discriminatory practices. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) oversees a number of federal laws that protect employees, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and others. These laws are meant to ensure that employees are not unfairly treated in the workplace. An employer cannot fire an employee as retaliation for whistleblowing or otherwise reporting violations. It is also important to note that you cannot fire an employee because they refuse to do something that is illegal.

Employment Contracts

Employment contracts between companies and employees are common. Contracts are designed to protect both employers and employees and put in place some terms of employment. They are meant to guide employment practices and can be beneficial to everyone. However, when an employment contract is in place it takes precedence over the employment at will doctrine. Both parties must abide by the terms of the contract. It is best to ensure that the contract includes rules for how terminations must be handled and how disputes can be resolved. An experienced attorney will help you draft an employment contract that is fair and protects your interests.

To learn more about employee terminations in Wisconsin, contact our lawyers at Moen Sheehan Meyer, Ltd. or call (608) 784-8310 to discuss your legal needs today.

Published May 2, 2022
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