Rights of workers and potential employees in Wisconsin

On behalf of Michael Fox

The legal area of employment law and employee rights can be very confusing to the average worker and the rules seem to change constantly. Even large, nationwide companies fail to follow employment laws correctly.

Just this month, drugstore giant CVS Caremark was sued in federal court in Chicago for ordering departing employees to sign illegal provisions in severance agreements. Additionally, earlier this year, Cargill was ordered to pay over $2 million to rejected job applicants for discriminating against them based on gender and race.

Common misconceptions

As an employee, you should be aware of a number of misconceptions regarding worker rights and employer responsibilities.

  • Reasons for firing: In general, employers can fire their employees without real reasons. Most employees are hired on an “at will” basis, meaning they may be fired – and they can leave – on a whim or at the will of either party.
  • Fairness: While hiring or promoting a colleague because he or she is better looking than another may not seem fair, it is not illegal. So long as it is not a pretext for prohibited discrimination, an employer can favor whomever he or she wants without stepping over the line.
  • Leave or disability: Taking maternity leave or having a disability do not guarantee that an employee is safe from being fired. If a company is downsizing and laying off a number of employees, those layoffs may include workers who are out on leave or have a disability. Again, so long as the leave or disability is not a reason for the termination, no job is completely safe.

Despite the above, employers frequently step over the line and engage in illegal and wrongful actions against their employees.

Illegal employer actions

Employers must not discriminate against employees based on the following:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation (preference)
  • Race
  • National origin
  • Disability
  • Religion

Additionally, employers must not engage in or permit sexual harassment in the workplace. When instances of harassment and discrimination do occur, workers have the right bring claims against their employers for these illegal actions. In fact, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received nearly 100,000 complaints of discrimination last year.

While the numbers of discrimination charges are falling, claims against employers for retaliation are on the rise. Retaliation occurs when an employer attempts to punish an employee for such actions as:

  • Reporting or filing an employment related claim
  • Testifying or assisting an employee or agency regarding a claim against the employer
  • Complaining of misconduct in the workplace

Fortunately, employment laws in Wisconsin and Illinois protect workers from retaliation, discrimination and other illegal acts committed by employers. If you suffer from acts of discrimination, retaliation or harassment in the workplace, consult an experienced employment law attorney. A lawyer knowledgeable about claims against employers may be able to help.