Losing a job, whether you expect it or not, is extremely stressful. Meeting with a lawyer can help you sort out whether you have legal claims arising from the termination.

In Wisconsin, unless you are a member of a union that has a collective bargaining agreement that covers or is with your employer, or unless you have an individual contract of employment, employment is said to be “at will.” That means that the employer can hire, fire, demote, or promote for any reason or no reason, other than those reasons otherwise prohibited by law. Those reasons include but are not limited to discrimination because of your age, race, national origin, sex, religion, creed, color, marital status, ancestry, sexual orientation, use or nonuse of lawful products off the employer’s premises during non-working hours, arrest or conviction records, membership in the National Guard, state defense force or any military reserve unit, or disability. They also include actions taken to prevent you from participating in a pension or other employer sponsored plan (like a health plan), because you’ve been called up to serve in the military, or because you’ve been summoned for jury duty. Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against you because you opposed a discriminatory practice or filed a complaint about discriminatory treatment, filed a wage claim, suffered a workplace injury, reported a health or safety violation, had your wages garnished or refused to submit to honesty testing (under certain circumstances). Employers cannot retaliate for use of, or interfere with the use of, family or medical leave, or because you have been subpoenaed to testify in an action in criminal or Children’s court. These various non-exclusive statutory protections exist under either federal or state law, or both.

“Wrongful discharge” is a term of legal art in Wisconsin. It means that an employee has been terminated for refusing to do something that the employer directs her to do, that if she did it would violate the law, or would violate regulations promoting the public health or safety or public good. What it does not mean is that the employer fired the employee for reasons that were unfair, or a result of favoritism (unless that favoritism is based on reasons that violate discrimination law), or simply because of bad management practices.

There is no law that requires an employer to offer severance to a terminated employee. If the employer has a formal severance plan, that plan either may contractually, or under federal law, require that the employer offer severance according to the terms of the plan, and usually that plan requires a complete release of claims in order to get the severance payment.

Every fact situation is different, and the foregoing summary does not by any means cover all the possible scenarios that can give rise to a claim, or not. If you think you may have a claim arising from the termination of your employment, you should contact a lawyer experienced in employment law to discuss the facts of your particular situation.

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Summer Murshid