Employers can only subject workers to negative consequences in certain circumstances. If your employer is retaliating against you for something you said or did at work, they may be violating your employment rights.

Here’s when an employer is and isn’t allowed to take action against you.

What is retaliation?

A worker who stands up for his or her employment rights cannot be fired or otherwise treated negatively by an employer in response. This is known as employer retaliation.

For example, if one employee makes lewd comments to another employee and the victim reports it, an employer cannot treat the victim negatively for making the report.

Behaviors that count as retaliation may include:

  • A sudden lack of communication that affects the employee’s duties
  • Reducing an employee’s wages
  • Removing responsibilities from the worker or otherwise demoting the employee
  • Harassing the employee or making offensive comments
  • Terminating the employee’s position
  • Giving a negative evaluation or reference
  • Subjecting the employee to difficult or unpleasant working conditions or duties

When can’t an employer retaliate against a worker

It’s important to understand that Wisconsin is an “employ at will” state unless otherwise established in an employer/employee contract. This means that an employer can terminate or discipline an employee for any reason, so long as it does not violate the person’s civil rights or employment rights.

An employer can fire an employee for arriving to work late. However, an employer cannot deny a promoting an employee for becoming pregnant, using a wheelchair, refusing dangerous work, disputing an incorrect wage payment, expressing their sexual orientation, etc.

This is meant to encourage workers to exercise their employment law rights, without fear of financial loss or career setbacks. If you aren’t sure whether a particular circumstance falls within your rights or whether an employer behavior counts as employee retaliation, an employment law attorney can help advise you.