Employer’s Guide to At-Will Employment in Wisconsin

At-will employment is a common law doctrine that allows an employer to terminate an employee at any time and for any reason. But what if the reason given for termination is illegal? In Wisconsin, there are several ways in which an at-will employee may be wrongfully terminated. Employers must be aware of the law to avoid expensive legal entanglements.

What is At-Will Employment?

The doctrine of at-will employment is based on the principle that the employment relationship is voluntary—that is, either party can terminate it without notice or cause.

What is Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful termination is when an employee is fired for an illegal reason, such as when an employer fires an employee because of their race, age, gender, religion, or national origin.

Exceptions to At-Will Employment

In Wisconsin, the rule of at-will employment generally applies. This means an employer can terminate an employee at any time, for any reason, with or without notice. However, there are some exceptions to this rule.

  1. Personal traits such as marital status, veteran status, mental disability, citizenship status, ethnicity, genetic information, national origin, and pregnancy cannot be the basis for termination.
  2. Employers cannot legally fire an employee as retaliation for blowing the whistle on illegal activity.
  3. An implied contract based on the terms of an employee handbook can provide protection. For example, if a guide lays out a procedure for identifying and addressing performance issues, it is implied the procedure will be followed before termination.