Is getting fired for grieving legal?

by Anonymous
(Wisconsin)

My daughter passed away from a heroin overdose 6/7/16 and we had her funeral on 6/10. I returned to work on the 13th because I liked my job and I thought it would keep my mind occupied. On Thursday I asked my boss for a copy of a book he had about recruitment (that was my job). He asked me why and told me it was odd that I wanted the book and gave me a hard time about it.

I took the book and decided to return it the next day (Friday) because he made such a big deal about it. About 10am the same day he called me into his office and started in about the book again. By this time my nerves were shot so I teared up. He told me to sit and said he was sick of watching me mope around the office looking depressed.

I started crying and stood up and said I'm sorry, my daughter just passed away I'm doing the best I can. He then started getting louder and I had to get out of the office. As soon as I walked outside they asked for my keys. I was not intending on quitting I just needed air.

I filled for unemployment and they fought it. I did win and collected. I had to see my doctor because of panic attacks and have extreme anxiety as the result of my daughter passing and also the way I was treated by my employer.

I have been trying to look for employment, but when I do the panic attacks and anxiety are so bad I stop. My question is, can I sue my previous boss for emotional abuse and/or mental distress? Is it legal to fire someone for grieving? I am trying to put my life back together from a terrible loss and his actions made it so much worse. Is there anything I can do? Thank you.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Is getting fired for grieving legal?":

Anonymous (Wisconsin):

Your version of the events precipitating the end of your employment is a bit vague. The issue of the book is especially interesting, and also confusing. There is something about this matter which is entirely illogical. It seems implausible your boss would be so very upset about your asking to borrow a book, and then "make such a big deal about it" the next day.

Without more information about the book matter, it is difficult for us to include the event as a basis for any type of legal action against your employer. While your boss appears to have acted insensitively and without empathy for your loss, that lack of empathy and insensitivity alone are not sufficient grounds for a civil claim for damages.

We couldn't find any statute in Wisconsin prohibiting employers from terminating employment based on grieving. Instead, under Wisconsin Statute Section 108.01:

"To demonstrate voluntary termination of employment for good cause under sub. (7) (b), the employee must show that the termination involved real and substantial fault on the part of the employer."

Unless you had a written contract of employment which listed the grounds for dismissal, or you can show that your boss terminated your employment based on discrimination by ethnicity, religion, age, or sexual orientation, it appears you really do not have the basis of a claim for emotional abuse or mental distress.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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