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Wrongful termination and the public policy exception: what should you know?

On Behalf of | Oct 19, 2023 | Wrongful Termination |

Losing a job is disheartening, and employers may choose to end your employment for any reason or no reason at all except an illegal reason, such as illegal discrimination or retaliation for protected concerted activity. In addition, in Wisconsin employment termination may be illegal if the reason is the employees refusal to However, there are some reasons for which your employer cannot legally fire you, one of which is the public policy exception. What should you know about this exception?

What is public policy?

In Wisconsin, the narrow common law exception to “employment at will” is a termination which violates public policy grounded in the law.

What is the public policy exception?

Wisconsin embraces what is known as at-will employment. This means that, absent an employment contract or Union collective bargaining agreement to the contrary, employers may terminate employees for  any reason or no reason at all, with a few notable exceptions. One of these exceptions is the public policy exception.

The public policy exception states that employers cannot violate public policy when ending an employee’s time with the company. As a result, this exception forbids businesses from firing an employee who refuses an unlawful directive for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Employers may not terminate employees because they refused to follow an order that would violate the law—either to take some action or a directive not to take an action required by law. One example would be refusing to participate in an illegal kickback scheme or in some cases to cheat customers or vendors. Other examples are refusing illegal healthcare directives or illegal safety directives

Employers may not time termination of an employee to avoid paying compensation, such as a bonus or commission. Because public policy includes many different laws and regulations you may not be aware of all of your rights. You may want to discuss your termination with an experienced attorney who can help you identify any potential violations of public policy involved in your situation.

If you were wrongfully terminated, how might a lawsuit benefit you?

Being fired from your position can have a profound impact on your life and your family. In addition to holding your employer responsible for their illegal actions, a lawsuit can provide several other benefits, including:

  •  Lost wages – Being fired cuts your household off from support, and it may take you some time to enter a new position. That new job may also pay less than your previous position. A lawsuit can provide compensation for the impact that missed paychecks and decreased pay have on your finances.
  • Lost benefits – Your previous employer may have provided a variety of benefits to you, from health insurance to stock options. Losing those benefits can lead to significant out-of-pocket costs.
  • Expenses related to searching for new employment – Finding a new job can be costly. A lawsuit could cover the cost of travel for job interviews as you search for new employment.
  • Emotional distress – Losing a job can put you under significant emotional strain as you struggle to support yourself and your family. The court may assess damages to reflect the pain and suffering that your termination caused.
  • Fees and Costs related to your lawsuit – Your employer may be required to pay for attorney’s fees, the cost of expert witness fees and other expenses.

Each wrongful termination claim is unique. To understand how much support your claim could offer, you may want to speak with an experienced attorney who can identify the many ways that loss of your job has impacted your life.

With the right help, you can protect your career, understand your rights, and hold your employer accountable for wrongful termination.