New Employee Protections in Wisconsin for Reporting Suspected Child Abuse

As of December 9, 2011, new changes in Wisconsin law provide greater protection to employees that report suspected child abuse. 2011 Wisconsin Act 81 enlarged both the scope of employees protected and the nature of adverse employment actions that employers are prohibited to take against an employee in Wisconsin for reporting.

Wisconsin law at Wis. Stat. 48.981 governs the reporting of suspected child abuse. The identity of the reporter is kept confidential.

The law makes reporting mandatory for employees in certain occupations such as physicians, nurses, dentists, social workers, school employees including teachers and administrators, school counselors, child care workers, EMTs, police and other law enforcement officers, among others. Any of these employees that have “reasonable cause to suspect that a child seen by the person in the course of professional duties has been abused or neglected or who has reason to believe that a child seen by the person in the course of professional duties has been threatened with abuse or neglect and that abuse or neglect of the child will occur shall … report as provided in sub. (3).” There are exceptions noted at sub. (2m). Failing to report when it is mandatory can subject the person to a fine of up to $1,000 or imprisonment for up to 6 months or both.

All other employees may report suspected child abuse, but doing so in not mandatory. Permissive reporting still provides the same protections as mandatory reporters.

An employee reporting suspected abuse who has a good faith belief of abuse is immune from liability for making such a report if the investigation does not find abuse occurred. There are a few exceptions, for example, the perpetrator cannot self report and still be immune.

The protection provided to an employee that reports suspected child abuse is under Section 48.981(2)(e). This section prohibits an employer from discharging an employee from employment for making either a mandatory or permissive report. Act 81 amends this section to now include the additional protections from “discipline or otherwise discriminated against in regard to employment, or threatened with any such treatment for doing so.” It appears to essentially prohibit any adverse employment action in retaliation for making mandatory or permissive reports of suspected child abuse.

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