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Discrimination because of Race, Color, National Origin, and Ancestry


The Wisconsin Fair Employment Act prohibits employers, employment agencies, labor unions, licensing agencies, and other persons from discriminating you because of their membership in protected category, including race, color, national origin, and ancestry.

What actions are covered?

If your 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:

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

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

The term race refers to the group(s) of people you are united or classified together with based on your common history, nationality, or geography. It includes all races, not just members of a racial minority.

Racial groups include:

The term color refers to the color of your skin.

The term national origin refers to your or your ancestor's country of birth and includes the physical, cultural, or linguistic characteristics of your country of national origin.

The term ancestry refers to the country, nation, tribe, or other identifiable group from which you descend. It can also refer to the physical, cultural, or linguistic characteristics of your ancestors.

Can my employer require me to speak English at work?

It may be unlawful for your employer to require you to speak English in the workplace. Such policies may be justified on a limited basis if it's necessary for business, such as when you are communicating with English speaking customers. A rule that requires you always speak English, including while on your breaks and lunch periods, is rarely justified.

Similarly, your employer may not discriminate against you because you have an accent unless your accent interferes with your ability to perform your job duties.

Can my employer ask if I am legally permitted to work in the U.S.?

Your employer can ask if you are legally permitted to work in the United States. They may also ask you for documentation proving that you are legally permitted to work in the United States.

It is important to note that work authorization documents must be reviewed for all applicants not just those who speak a different language or appear to be foreign.

When can an employer consider my race or national origin in hiring?

An employer may only consider your race or national origin in a few specific situations.

Affirmative Action: An employer may consider your race or national origin when following the hiring process outlined in a previously adopted affirmative action plan.

Counselor: If an employer can show a business necessity for doing so, they may consider your race or national origin when hiring a staff counselor, mentor, or role model for a group of teens of a certain cultural or ethnic background.

Actors or Models: An employer may consider racial or ethnic characteristics when hiring actors or models for the purposes of authenticity.

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

While the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) prohibits employers from hiring unauthorized workers, it also prohibits them from treating you differently because you speak with an accent, are foreign born, "foreign-looking", have a "foreign-sounding" name.

Can an employer pass me over for a job because of my accent or language skill level?

An employer may not refuse to hire you because of your accent or language skill level if you are reasonably able to perform the job requirements. An employer may reject your application if your language skill level would significantly interfere with your job performance.

Can I be discriminated against for associating with someone of another race or national origin?

No. The law prohibits employers from discriminating against you because of the race or national origin of your spouse, a family member, or friend or associate. Likewise, the law prohibits an employer from discriminating against you for your membership in an organization that advances the interests of a certain racial or national origin group.

Can employers fill jobs without advertising in public?

Employers may fill vacancies by whatever method(s) they choose so long as the method(s) are not discriminatory. An employer may be engaging in unlawful discrimination if they employ members of a single race or national origin group and fill vacancies by employee referral or word of mouth.

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:

For more information