Race, Color, National Origin, and Ancestry

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 race, color, national origin, and ancestry.

What actions are covered?

When an individual's race, color, national origin, and/or ancestry 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, layoff and firing, harassment and other employment related actions.

The statute of limitations for filing a complaint is 300 days from the date the action was taken or the individual was made aware the action was taken.

What do the terms race, color, national origin, and ancestry mean?

"Race" refers to a group of people united or classified together based on a common history, nationality or geography. It includes all races, not just members of a racial minority. Racial groups include American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, Black or African American, and White. Bi-racial and multi-racial designations are also recognized.

"Color" refers to a person's skin color.

"National Origin" refers to a person's, or his or her ancestor's, country of birth or because a person has physical, cultural or linguistic characteristics of a national origin group.

"Ancestry" refers to the country, nation, tribe or other identifiable group of people from which a person descends. It can also refer to the physical, cultural or linguistic characteristics of the person's ancestors.

What kinds of actions might be unlawful?

It is unlawful to make employment related decisions because of your race, color, national origin, or ancestry, including adverse decisions in recruitment and hiring, job assignments, pay, leave or benefits, promotion, licensing or union membership, training, layoff and firing, or harassment.

It can be unlawful for an employer to establish a rule requiring that employees speak English in the workplace. Such policies may be justified on a limited basis if they are necessary to the functioning of the employer's business, such as when the employee is required to communicate with English speaking customers. A rule that requires English at all times, including breaks and lunch periods, is rarely justified.

Similarly, an employer may not discriminate against an individual because they have an accent unless the accent interferes with their ability to perform their job duties.

It is not unlawful for an employer to ask an applicant if they are legally permitted to work in the United States or to require employees to show documentation that they are legally permitted to work in the United States.

Are there any exceptions under the law?

The law permits an employer to legally consider a person's race or national origin in a few very narrow exceptions. A few examples include:

Generally, however, in practically all jobs available in today's workforce, the law prohibits an employer from considering race, color, national origin or ancestry in making an employment-related decision.

How does the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) relate to the anti-discrimination law?

While the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) prohibits hiring of unauthorized workers, it also prohibits employers from singling out or otherwise treating persons differently because they are foreign born, "foreign-looking", have "foreign-sounding" names, or speak with an accent.

Work authorization documents must be reviewed for all applicants, not just those who appear to be foreign or whose primary language is not English.

Can a person be passed over for a job because of an accent or language skill level?

An employer may not refuse to hire an applicant who is reasonably able to meet job performance requirements, despite an accent or less than perfect language skills. However an employer may reject an applicant whose language skill level is such that it would significantly interfere with job performance.

Can a person be discriminated against for associating with a person of another race or national origin group?

No. The law prohibits discrimination against a person based on the race or national origin of a spouse, family member, friend or associate. Likewise, the law forbids discrimination against an individual because of his membership in an organization that advances the interests of a certain racial or national origin group.

Can employers fill jobs without advertising in public?

The law does not specify the method an employer must use in filing job vacancies but the method used must not be discriminatory. An employer who employs mostly members of one race or national origin group who only fills jobs by employee referral or word of mouth may be engaging in unlawful discrimination against other racial or national origin groups who are not represented in the employer's workforce.

Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws

Federal laws differ from state laws, as do procedures for complaints. The most common federal laws, which might apply to issues involving race, color, national origin and ancestry, are:

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