Employees in Wisconsin enjoy broad protections from unlawful discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, thanks to the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (WFEA), sometimes referred to as the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act.
The Wisconsin Fair Employment Act makes it unlawful for public or private employers, employment agencies, licensing agencies, and unions to refuse to hire, to fire, or otherwise discriminate against any individual in the terms or conditions of his/her employment based on certain protected classes. It further prohibits harassment in the workplace based on those same protected classes.
Under the WFEA, discrimination or harassment based on any of the following is unlawful:
- Age (Over 40)
- Arrest Record
- Conviction Record
- Disability (Actual or Perceived)
- Gender (Sex)
- Genetic Testing
- Honesty Testing
- Marital Status
- Military Service
- National Origin, Ancestry, and Ethnicity
- Sexual Orientation
- Use or Nonuse of Lawful Products
The Wisconsin Fair Employment Act also makes it unlawful for an employer to in any way discriminate against an employee for declining to attend a meeting or participate in any communication about religious or political matters.
The WFEA also prohibits retaliation against an employer in 2 ways:
- Retaliation for opposing discrimination or harassment based on any of the protected categories
- Retaliation for participating in the legal process, such as filing a discrimination complaint or acting as a witness for someone who has
Remedies Available Under WFEA
The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development – Equal Rights Division (ERD) is responsible for administering the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act.
Under the law, if the Equal Rights Division (ERD) determines that an individual was the victim of unlawful employment discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, that individual is entitled to recover his/her back pay (lost wages), attorney fees and costs, and out of pocket expenses (for example the out-of-pocket cost of insurance if benefits were lost). Reinstatement (getting his/her old job back) is also available.
Compensatory damages (pain and suffering) and punitive damages (monetary punishment levied against the employer for discriminating) are not available through the WFEA.
Statute of Limitations
The time in which an individual has to file a complaint of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation under the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act is 300 days from the act triggering the claim. For example, if an employee is fired based on a discriminatory reason on January 1st, that individual has to file an employment discrimination complaint within 300 days of January 1st (October 28th). If a complaint is not filed within the 300 days, it is barred and the individual loses his/her discrimination claim.
The full text of the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (WFEA) can be found in Wisconsin Statute Section 111.31-111.395.