Sexual Orientation Protection

Overview

The Wisconsin Fair Employment Act prohibits employers, employment agencies, labor unions, licensing agencies, and other persons from discriminating against employees, job applicants, or licensing applicants because of their membership in specific protected categories, including sexual orientation.

The Wisconsin Fair Employment Law defines "sexual orientation" as having a preference for heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality, having a history of such a preference or being identified with such a preference.

What actions are covered?

When an individual's sexual orientation motivates the decision related to an employment action or licensing action, it becomes unlawful discrimination.

Specifically, the law prohibits discrimination in recruitment and hiring, job assignments, pay, leave or benefits, promotion, licensing or union membership, training, lay-off and firing, and other employment related actions.

How does the law define sexual orientation?

The Wisconsin Fair Employment Law defines "sexual orientation" as having a preference for heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality, having a history of such a preference or being identified with such a preference.

Who is protected?

The Wisconsin Fair Employment Law applies to all private and public employers, regardless of the number of employees, except for federal government or tribal employers.

Can an employer refuse to hire a person because of their sexual orientation?

No, the law prohibits discrimination because of being identified as a relative, friend or significant other of someone with a particular sexual orientation.

May an employer ask about an applicant’s sexual orientation?

The Fair Employment Law prohibits any inquiry that implies or expresses any limitation because of a protected basis, including sexual orientation. Marital status discrimination is also prohibited under Wisconsin law and questions about marital status that are designed to detect a person’s sexual orientation may violate both marital status and sexual orientation provisions of the law.

Is an individual protected if an employer thinks the employee’s sexual orientation is different than it really is and acts on that perception?

Yes, the definition includes being identified with a preference for a particular sexual orientation. It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against someone based on perceived sexual orientation, even if the perception is wrong, for example, it would be a violation of the law if an employer assumes a man is homosexual because he is effeminate and discharges him because of that perception.

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