Does a municipal employer have to provide notice, a hearing or some other process before ending an employment relationship with a municipal employee?
Generally, no. In Wisconsin, municipal employees are generally classified as “at will” employees. In the absence of a civil service ordinance or law, or a contract or collective bargaining agreement or other document stating otherwise such as a personnel policy or employee handbook, “at will” employees may be terminated with or without cause and with or without notice by the employer. See State ex rel. Epping v. City of Neilsville, 218 Wis. 2d 516, 581 N.W.2d 548, 552; (Ct. App. 1998); Vorwald v. School District, 167 Wis. 2d 549, 482 N.W.2d 93, 96 (1992). However, a municipal employee may not be discharged for unlawful reasons (e.g., discrimination based on, among other things, race, gender, age, or national origin).
A contract, state law, local ordinance or other document (e.g., employee handbook) may alter an employee’s at-will status. If the municipality and an employee enter into an express or implied contract, any discharge must be done pursuant to the contract terms. State law also protects certain municipal employees from being fired at the will of the municipality. For example, municipalities must comply with certain statutory due process procedures when seeking to terminate police or fire department personnel. See Wis. Stat. §§ 62.13(5), 62.13(6m), 61.65(1)(am). (rev. 1/20)