With the recent observance of Veteran’s Day , it’s important to celebrate America’s veterans not only for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve, but also for their sacrifice for the common good, such as preserving our liberty and freedom. One such freedom many of us take for granted is freedom from discrimination in employment—a freedom unfortunately denied to some of our veterans and active service members. This article briefly discusses what local, state, and federal laws apply to our veterans and active service members.

Prohibited Employment Discrimination Against Applicants or Employees on the Basis of Their Military Service

Wisconsin Law

Under the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (Wis. Stat. § 111.355(1)), it is unlawful for an employer, labor organization, licensing organization, employment agency, or other person to refuse to hire, employ, terminate, license, or otherwise discriminate against an individual because of his or her military service. These protections extend to any individual who is or applies to be a member of the U.S. armed forces, the state defense force, the national guard of any state, or any reserve component of the U.S. armed forces. These protections also extend to an individual who performs, has performed, applied to perform, or has an obligation to perform military service.

It is important to note some exceptions to this general rule prohibiting discrimination apply. For instance, it is not considered employment discrimination for an employer, labor organization, licensing organization, employment agency or other person to refuse to hire, employ, or license an individual or to bar or terminate an individual from employment or licensure because the individual has been discharged from military service for bad conduct, dishonorable, or other than honorable discharge. However, the employer, labor organization, licensing organization, employment agency or other person must prove the circumstances of the discharge or separation substantially relate to the circumstances of the particular job or licensed activity being denied. It is important to note the City of Madison has similar laws which prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of military service, but further extends these protections to those individuals who incurred a less than honorable discharge from military service.

Federal Law

In addition to state law, the federal government has also extended protections to prevent employers from taking unlawful employment action against service members. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act – commonly known as USERRA – is a federal law that provides service members and former service members protections related to the civilian jobs they held before being called up for active duty. It also prohibits employment discrimination and acts of reprisal against members who serve in the uniformed services. Under USERRA, an employer, including any government or private entity, may not deny a person initial employment, promotion or any benefit of employment because the person performed or is obliged to perform service in a uniformed service. The law applies to all public and private employers in the United States, regardless of size, and applies to any foreign company with a physical branch or location in the United States. Public employers include all federal and state government offices and political subdivisions. We have previously discussed special protections afforded to families of injured service members under the Family Medical Leave Act who need to take medical leave to care for their loved ones.


It is unfortunate that some of our service members are denied the very freedoms they secure on our behalf as a result of their dedication and selflessness. Fortunately, some protections exist on the state and federal level to prevent these unjust practices.

The information provided above presents general information on employee rights and is not intended to provide legal advice. If you believe an employer has violated your rights relating to your military service or other rights, contact one of the employment attorneys at Hawks Quindel, S.C.

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Colin Good