Wisconsin Whistleblower Laws

Statute of Limitations as they apply to the state of Wisconsin

A Summary of Wisconsin Whistleblower Laws

Wisconsin is an employment-at-will state. This means employees can be discharged from work for any reason or no reason. However, there are a few exceptions to this doctrine that are used to protect employees from wrongful retaliation. These exceptions include common law protections and statutory protections. Statutory protections are laws that are enacted by the state’s legislature to address specific subject areas, e.g., workers’ compensation, whereas common law protections are laws that are created by courts to address subject areas that are not covered by enacted laws.

This is a summary of Wisconsin Whistleblower Laws, make sure to check out the Federal Whistleblower Laws as well.

Whistleblower Rights in Wisconsin

Common Law Protections for Whistleblowers in Wisconsin

Wisconsin has a public policy that is applied as an exception to the employment-at-will doctrine. Therefore, it is illegal for employers to discharge an employee for reasons that violate public policy. To determine whether an employee is eligible for protection under the state’s public policy, the courts usually rely on statutory protections, constitutional provisions, and prior judicial opinions. For example, if a statute endorses a worker’s right to collect a wage not less than the minimum wage, an employer who discharges an employee in retaliation for exercising such a right may be found guilty of violating public policy. However, Wisconsin’s public policy does not cover whistleblowing situations. Employees are only protected when they refuse to violate a statute or constitutional provision. Also, employers are not allowed to discharge an employee in retaliation for fulfilling a statutory obligation to prevent wrongdoing by reporting an instance of wrongdoing to the appropriate authority.

Statutory Protections for Whistleblowers in Wisconsin

Government Employees

No employer or agent of an employer is allowed to discipline or in any way retaliate against a government employee for:

  • Disclosing a violation of state or federal law, rule, or regulation.
  • Disclosing mismanagement, abuse of authority in state government, a substantial waste of public funds, or a danger to public health and safety.

An employee is also protected if the employer retaliates against the employee because he or she believes the employee has performed the activities mentioned above. Wis. Stat. § 230.90.

Fair Employment Act-Discrimination

It is against the law to discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Opposing discriminatory practices.
  • Filing a complaint under this statute.
  • Testifying or assisting in a proceeding under this statute.

Under this statute, discrimination in employment based on age, race, creed, color, disability, marital status, sex, national origin, ancestry, arrest record, conviction record, military service, use or nonuse of lawful products off the employer’s premises during non-working hours, or declining to attend a meeting or to participate in any communication about religious matters or political matters is prohibited.

Wis. Stat § 111.322(3).

Also, the Fair Employment Act prohibits retaliating against employees who file a complaint, exercise a right, or testify or participate in a proceeding concerning the following statutes:

Hours of labor Wis. Stat. § 103.02.

Family or medical leave Wis. Stat. § 103.10.

Right to inspect employee’s personnel records Wis. Stat. § 103.13.

Minors under the age of 12 years engaged in street trades Wis. Stat. § 103.28.

Recovery of unpaid wages owed to a minor Wis. Stat.§ 103.32.

Unauthorized deductions from employee’s wages for faulty workmanship, loss, theft, or damage Wis. Stat. §103.455.

Prevailing wage rates and hours of labor for employees of highway contractors Wis. Stat. § 103.50.

Minimum wage Wis. Stat. § 104.12.

Wage claims Wis. Stat. § 109.03.

Wage claims by employer who decides upon a business closing or mass layoff Wis. Stat. § 109.07.

Health care benefits claims Wis. Stat. § 109.075.

Health care worker whistleblowers Wis. Stat. § 146.997.

Employees’ Right to Know Law Wis. Stat. %26sect;%26sect; 101.58-101.599.

Employment of minors Wis. Stat. %26sect;%26sect; 103.64-103.82.

Municipal prevailing wage and hour scales Wis. Stat. %26sect; 66.0903.

Wage rate on state work Wis. Stat. %26sect; 103.49.

Prevailing wage rates on local professional football stadiums Wis Stat. %26sect; 229.8275.

Wis. Stat § 111.322(2m).

Health Care Employees

No health care facility or health care provider is allowed to discipline or threaten to discipline an employee in retaliation for:

  • Reporting a violation of a law, rule, or regulation by the health care facility or health care provider.
  • Reporting a health care standard that poses a risk to public health or safety or one that violates any standard established by any law, rule, or regulation or professionally recognized accrediting or standard-setting body.
  • Testifying or participating in an action or proceeding concerning a violation under this statute.
  • Providing information under this statute in good faith.

An employee is also protected if the employer retaliates against the employee because he or she believes the employee has performed the activities mentioned above.

Wis. Stat. § 146.997(3a).

Elder Care

No person is allowed to discharge or in any way discriminate against any person in retaliation for reporting abuse, financial exploitation, neglect, or self-neglect of an elder adult at risk. Under this statute, an elder adult is defined as a person who is 60 years old or older. Reports under this statute can be made to the county department, the elder-adult-at-risk agency, a state or local law enforcement agency, the department, or the board on aging and long-term care. Also, whistleblowers under this statute are not required to be sure about the occurrence of a violation under this statute. They only need to reasonably believe that abuse, financial exploitation, neglect, or self-neglect of an elder adult at risk has occurred. Wis. Stat. § 46.90(4)(b).

Migrant Workers

No employer or migrant labor contractor is allowed to terminate, demote, suspend or take any adverse action against a migrant worker in retaliation for exercising rights afforded by laws and regulations of the United States or Wisconsin. Wis. Stat. § 103.96.

Toxic Substances

No employer or agricultural employer is allowed to discharge, discipline, or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for exercising a right afforded under this statute. Under this statute, employees have a right to request information about a toxic substance, infectious agent, or pesticide that the employee may work with. Wis. Stat. § 101.595(2).

Workers’ Compensation

Employers are not allowed to discriminate or threaten to discriminate against an employee in retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim or attempting to file a workers’ compensation claim. Wis. Stat. § 102.35.

Whistleblower Retaliation Claims in Wisconsin

Unless stated otherwise by a statute, retaliation lawsuits should be filed within 6 years of the retaliatory action. Also, if a statute allows aggrieved employees to file a complaint with a state agency, aggrieved employees are required to exhaust the remedies provided by that administrative agency before filing a lawsuit.

Fair Employment Act-Discrimination

Complaints under this statute should be filed with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) within 300 days of the retaliatory action.

Health Care Employees

Complaints under this statute should be filed with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) within 300 days of the retaliatory action.

Elder Care

Complaints under this statute should be filed with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) within 300 days of the retaliatory action.

Government Employee Disclosures

Lawsuits under this statute should be filed within 2 years of the retaliatory action.

Toxic Substances

Complaints under this statute should be filed with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) within 30 days of the retaliatory action.

Whistleblower Hotlines in Wisconsin

To file a complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD), call (608) 266-3131.

Whistleblower Retaliation and Violation Penalties in Wisconsin

Unless stated otherwise by a statute, employers who carry out unlawful retaliation against an employee may be liable to the aggrieved employee for a combination or any of the following remedies:

  • Reinstatement to the employee’s former position or equivalent position with or without back pay.
  • Compensatory damages.
  • Reasonable attorney’s fees.
  • Plus any other appropriate relief.

Government Employees

Employers who violate this statute may be liable to the aggrieved employee for:

  • Reinstatement to the employee’s former position or equivalent position with or without back pay.
  • Removal of adverse material relating to the retaliatory action or threat from the employee’s personnel file.
  • Compensatory damages.
  • Reasonable attorney’s fees.
  • Insertion of a copy of the court order into the employee’s personnel file.

Also, the court may recommend to the employer that the following disciplinary actions be taken against the employer’s agent:

  • Suspension.
  • Termination.
  • Issuance of a letter of reprimand to the agent.
  • Placement of information describing the agent’s action in his or her personnel file.

Fair Employment Act General Penalties

Employers who violate the statutes mentioned under the Fair Employment Act statute may be liable to the aggrieved employee for:

  • Reinstatement.
  • Compensation ranging from 500 times to 1000 times the hourly wage of the aggrieved employee.

Interim earnings or amounts earnable with reasonable diligence by the aggrieved employee shall be used to reduce back pay otherwise allowable.

Health Care Employees

Health care facilities and health care providers who violate this statute may be liable for a fine not exceeding $1000 for a first violation, a fine not exceeding $5000 for a violation committed within 12 months of a previous violation, and a fine not exceeding $10,000 for a violation committed within 12 months of 2 or more previous violation.

Elder Care

Persons who violate this statute may be liable to the aggrieved employee for damages incurred as a result of the violation. The violator may also be punished by a fine not exceeding $10,000 or by imprisonment not exceeding 6 months, or both.

Migrant Workers

Employers and contractors who violate this statute may be liable to the aggrieved migrant worker for:

  • Full reinstatement.
  • Back wages accumulated during the period of the retaliation.

In the case of a willful violation of this statute, the court may award exemplary damages up to double the amount of back wages found due in addition to any other damages awarded. Also, the court may award reasonable attorney’s fees in cases of aggravated circumstances.

Toxic Substances

Employers found guilty of violating this statute may be liable to the aggrieved employee for:

  • Reinstatement.
  • Payment of back pay.
  • Provision of the requested information.
  • Plus any other appropriate relief.

Workers’ Compensation

Employers who violate this statute may be liable for a fine ranging from $50 to $500 per offense.

More Wisconsin Laws

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *