Wisconsin’s Wrongful Termination FAQs: Your At-Will Employment Rights

Wisconsin’s Wrongful Termination FAQs: Your At-Will Employment Rights

March 10, 2024 0 By Maria

Wrongful termination is a concern for many employees, especially in at-will employment states like Wisconsin. Understanding at-will employment and wrongful termination laws is crucial for protecting your rights as an employee. This article provides an overview of at-will employment in Wisconsin, what constitutes wrongful termination, and how employees can protect themselves from unjust dismissal.

What is at-will employment in Wisconsin?

At-will employment is a fundamental principle in Wisconsin labor laws. It means that either the employer or the employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time, with or without cause, and with no liability. This flexibility allows for both parties to end the working relationship without legal consequences.

Understanding the concept of at-will employment

At-will employment gives employers the freedom to dismiss employees for any lawful reason, or even for no reason at all. Likewise, employees are also free to resign from their positions without providing a specific justification.

Limitations on at-will employment

Despite the broad scope of at-will employment, certain limitations exist. Employers cannot terminate employees in violation of federal or state anti-discrimination laws, labor laws, or in retaliation for exercising their rights such as filing a workers’ compensation claim or reporting workplace safety violations.

Exceptions to at-will employment

Some exceptions to at-will employment exist in Wisconsin. For instance, if an employer has an implied or express employment contract with an employee, the termination must adhere to the terms outlined in the contract. Additionally, public policy exceptions may prevent employers from terminating employees for reasons that violate public interests or established public policies.

What constitutes wrongful termination in Wisconsin?

Wrongful termination occurs when an employer dismisses an employee in violation of employment laws or public policy. It’s important to understand the criteria for determining wrongful termination to protect employee rights and seek legal recourse if necessary.

Defining wrongful termination under Wisconsin law

Under Wisconsin law, wrongful termination can occur when an employee is fired due to their race, gender, age, disability, religion, or other protected characteristics. It also includes termination in retaliation for reporting illegal activities, participating in whistleblowing, or exercising statutory rights.

Examples of wrongful termination scenarios

Instances of wrongful termination can range from firing an employee for refusing to engage in illegal conduct to dismissing an employee after they filed for workers’ compensation. Any termination that violates employee rights may constitute wrongful termination.

Legal recourse for wrongful termination

Employees who believe they have been wrongfully terminated have legal recourse. They can file a lawsuit against the employer for wrongful termination, seeking compensation for lost wages, emotional distress, and punitive damages. Legal action can also seek reinstatement of employment or negotiated severance packages.

How can employees protect themselves from wrongful termination?

While wrongful termination is a concerning prospect, employees can take proactive steps to safeguard their employment rights and mitigate the risks associated with at-will employment.

Know your employment rights

Understanding employment laws and knowing your rights as an employee is crucial to identifying potential wrongful termination. It’s important to be aware of anti-discrimination laws, labor standards, and protections against retaliation for exercising legal rights.

Documenting workplace incidents and communications

Keeping detailed records of workplace incidents, performance evaluations, and any communication related to employment can help substantiate claims of wrongful termination. Documentation serves as valuable evidence in legal proceedings.

Seeking legal advice for employment contracts and agreements

Before entering into an employment contract or agreement, employees should consider seeking legal advice to ensure that their rights and obligations are clearly outlined. Legal review can help assess the fairness and enforceability of employment terms.

What should an employee do if they believe they have been wrongfully terminated?

Discovering that you have been wrongfully terminated can be distressing, but there are steps that an employee can take to address the situation and seek justice for the unjust dismissal.

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Steps to take when facing wrongful termination

When an employee believes they have been wrongfully terminated, they should gather evidence supporting their claim, such as performance evaluations and communication with the employer. They should also review company policies and relevant employment laws to evaluate the circumstances of the termination.

Seeking assistance from a labor law attorney

Consulting with an experienced labor law attorney is essential for understanding the legal options available and developing a strategy for addressing the wrongful termination. A skilled attorney can assess the situation, negotiate with the employer, or pursue legal action as necessary.

Filing a claim with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development

In cases of wrongful termination, employees can file a claim with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. This administrative process allows employees to seek remedies such as back pay, reinstatement, and other forms of compensation for wrongful termination.

What are the potential outcomes of a successful wrongful termination claim?

Successful resolution of a wrongful termination claim can yield various remedies for the affected employee and may also have implications for the employer’s future conduct.

Reinstatement and back pay

If a wrongful termination claim is substantiated, the employee may be reinstated in their position and entitled to receive back pay for the wages lost during the period of unemployment resulting from the wrongful termination.

Compensation for emotional distress and damages

Employees who have been wrongfully terminated may receive compensation for emotional distress, damages, and any financial losses incurred as a result of the unjust dismissal. This compensation aims to address the hardships and suffering caused by the wrongful termination.

Implications for the employer’s future conduct

A successful wrongful termination claim can signal to the employer that their actions were legally unjustified. It may prompt the employer to review their practices and reconsider their approach to employment terminations, potentially leading to improved employee protection and fair treatment in the workplace.


What is at-will employment and how does it apply in Wisconsin?

At-will employment means that either the employer or the employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all, as long as it is not unlawful. In Wisconsin, the at-will employment doctrine is a basic principle, but there are exceptions under state and federal law.

What qualifies as wrongful termination in Wisconsin?

Wrongful termination in Wisconsin occurs when an employee is fired for reasons that violate state or federal laws, breach of employment contract, or in violation of public policy. It’s important to consult with a qualified employment law attorney to determine if your termination was wrongful.

Can I file a wrongful termination claim in Wisconsin based on violation of public policy?

Yes, Wisconsin recognizes the wrongful discharge doctrine, which allows employees to file a claim for wrongful termination if the termination violates public policy as set forth in state or federal laws. This includes protections against discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and other unlawful practices.

When should I contact an employment law attorney in Milwaukee for a wrongful termination case?

If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated and are considering legal action, it is advisable to contact an employment law attorney in Milwaukee as soon as possible. They can help you understand your rights, assess your situation, and guide you through the process of filing a complaint or taking legal action.

What steps should I take if I suspect wrongful termination by my employer in Wisconsin?

If you suspect wrongful termination, it’s essential to gather any evidence that supports your claim, such as performance reviews, communications with your employer, and relevant company policies and procedures. You should also seek legal advice from a reputable law firm with expertise in employment law to understand your options and next steps.

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Are Wisconsin employers required to provide a reason for termination?

Under the at-will employment doctrine in Wisconsin, employers are generally not required to provide a reason for termination. However, if the termination may violate state or federal law, the employee may have grounds for a wrongful termination claim.

Can I file a wrongful termination claim against my employer in Wisconsin for discrimination based on national origin?

Yes, discrimination based on national origin is prohibited under both state and federal law. If you believe your termination was due to discrimination based on your national origin, you should consult with an employment law attorney to discuss filing a claim for wrongful termination.

What are the legal remedies available to employees in Wisconsin for wrongful termination?

Employees who successfully prove wrongful termination in Wisconsin may be entitled to remedies such as reinstatement, back pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages (in cases of willful violation of the law), and reasonable legal fees and costs.

What is the process for filing a wrongful termination complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development?

To file a wrongful termination complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, you must complete the necessary forms and provide detailed information about the circumstances leading to the termination. It’s advisable to seek guidance from an employment law attorney to ensure the proper filing of the complaint.

How long do I have to file a wrongful termination claim in Wisconsin?

The time limit for filing a wrongful termination claim in Wisconsin can vary depending on the specific circumstances and the laws that apply to your case. It’s crucial to seek legal advice promptly, as there are deadlines for filing claims under both state and federal law.



In conclusion, understanding the wisconsin employment laws is crucial for both employers and employees in the state. The state law in Wisconsin follows the “at-will” employment doctrine, which means that an employer can terminate an employee for any reason, as long as it is not in violation of unlawful reasons. However, there are exceptions to this rule, and employers must be careful to document employee performance and disciplinary issues to avoid wrongful termination claims. Milwaukee employment law attorneys recommend that employers must also be aware of the wisconsin statute that protects employees from “wrongful termination”.

It is important that employees understand their rights under the state law and know when they may have a wrongful discharge claim. If an employee believes that their termination is in violation of the law, they should seek the advice of an employment lawyer who can help them navigate the legal process. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has provided guidance on what is considered wrongful termination, and attorney fees may be awarded to the prevailing party in such cases. This serves as a deterrent for employers from making wrongful termination claims against their employees.

Employers must be cautious when deciding to terminate an employee, as even if they have the right to do so under the “at-will” doctrine, there are still legal implications to consider. It is important to ensure that the termination is not based on unlawful reasons, as this could be considered wrongful termination under the wisconsin employment laws. By documenting employee performance and disciplinary issues, employers can protect themselves from potential legal disputes and avoid wrongful termination claims.