A Republican-backed bill that would standardize employment laws across the state would also prohibit local municipalities from creating their own discrimination laws and protecting their workers.
Though this bill attempts to make it easier for companies to do business in Wisconsin, in Madison it would mean less protection for employees, Alyssa Riphon, investigator and conciliator for the city of Madison, said.
“The city of Madison has its own discrimination law, which has been in effect for almost 55 years,” Riphon said. “It is one of the most comprehensive anti-discrimination laws in the country and has 28 protected classes. Employment is one of three sections of this law. But we receive the most discrimination complaints in the area of employment and this legislation would essentially gut the employment section of the ordinance.”
Additionally, the bill would eliminate 12 protected classes in the city of Madison.
These classes are certain demographics that tend to experience discrimination and have been protected in the workplace so far. They include gender identity, nonreligion, homelessness, source of income, social security number, physical appearance, political beliefs, student status, domestic partners, citizenship, unemployment status and credit history, Riphon said.
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Riphon said people who qualify for these categories would no longer be safeguarded from employment discrimination, which will be very troublesome to the city of Madison and its community.
“If the Employment Standardization Act passes, employers can deny employment to individuals because they are homeless,” Riphon said. “Similarly, transgender individuals tend to experience a high level of harassment in the workplace. The city of Madison, with its LGBTQ+ population unique to other cities in the state of Wisconsin, has passed gender identity as a protected class. These, in addition to 10 other protected classes, are not protected by State Equal Rights laws.”
The loss of protection for these 12 classes will cause Dane County to revise or delete the county’s standard nonemployment discrimination language in their Point of Service agreements, Dane County communications director Stephanie Miller said.
Additionally, the bill would move jurisdiction away from Dane County, Miller said.
“The bill would void our ordinance that calls for increasing wage to $15 for county contracted service providers,” Miller said. “Essentially, the county would have very little latitude to mandate a number of employment standards through its procurement policy.”
Riphon also said with the area of employment in the jurisdiction of Madison General Ordinance, the city can provide comprehensive training and technical assistance to businesses in Madison. If employers want to host a full employee discrimination training, they can receive one per year, completely free of charge. But with the Employment Standardization Act, this service would be eliminated.
Additionally, if anyone in Madison were to experience discrimination in the workplace, they would have to go through the state of Wisconsin process, which will take longer, Riphon said. The city of Madison has predicted investigations could take up to a year to complete — nine months longer than the current process.
Overall, Riphon believes the bill will have a negative impact on the working environment in Madison, and will also be negative for the Madison community.
“Implementing a law which will reduce the protections any individual has at their workplace in Madison will have a discomforting impact on employees,” Riphon said. “Businesses may also suffer because they’ll have to find another source for technical assistance and training on employment discrimination laws at the state and federal level, which tends to be very expensive.”
By contrast, while the bill could change pieces of existing legislation, Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, believes the Employment Standardization Act will benefit Wisconsin in many ways.
Kapenga said in a statement that there has been a nationwide movement for stricter legislation at the local level and Wisconsin needs to join the movement.
“Wisconsin is made up of 1,924 different municipalities,” Kapenga said. “Imagine the complex web of regulation that business and employees would be forced to comply with if every one of those municipalities passed separate ordinances governing employment laws.
Dane County estimates the state will take action on the bill within the next six to eight weeks, Riphon said.