No matter where you work, losing your job can throw your future into uncertainty. This is especially true if they did not give you a reason for your termination. Can businesses really end an employee’s time with their company without telling them why they were fired?
Wisconsin law recognizes “at-will” employment
Under Wisconsin law, an employee may end their time at a company “at will,” and employers may also terminate an employee’s time with the company “at will.” This means that a business may fire an employee at any time for any reason or for no reason at all, except an illegal reason. Unfortunately, this means that a person may lose their job abruptly and without an explanation.
Even in an “at-will” state, numerous motivations for termination are illegal, whether or not they are the stated reasons
In Wisconsin, employees enjoy the highest level of protection provided by either the State or the federal laws. For example, employers are prohibited from terminating employees if their decision is based in substantial part on:
- National origin
- Sex or gender
- Sexual orientation
- Disability or medical conditions, including pregnancy
- Need for reasonable accommodations
- Use or non-use of lawful product
- Use of FMLA
In addition, your employer may not fire you as a form of retaliation for protected activity. For example, if you took a legally protected action like reporting illegal activity in your workplace or filing for benefits after a workplace accident, your employer is prohibited from firing you because of those actions. Examples of such protected reporting are:
- Filing a Workers’ Compensation claim
- Requesting FMLA, including intermittent FMLA
- Demanding accurate and timely pay or will file a wage claim
- Reporting patient concerns in a healthcare setting
We get many calls from employees who complained to HR about their individual situations, particularly about their boss. Often, this is NOT protected and may be a legal firing. Such complaints are only protected if they are made about conditions or events that affect at least one other employee in addition to the one who goes to HR. Complaints about wages, hours, and working conditions that affect the employee complaining as well as at least one other employee, constitute Protected, Concerted Activity. Examples include:
- Requesting that “we” get raises; but not that “I” get a raise.
- Demanding more notice for schedule changes that affect the employee and at least one other person.
- Complaining about fraud against the government, such as Medicare or government grant fraud
Of course, the employer is rarely going to give the actual motivation for the termination. If you suspect that your former employer’s actions were based on an illegal motive, you may want to discuss your situation with an experienced attorney. They can help you gather evidence and fight for your rights and your career.