Labor and Employment Law Overview: Wisconsin

Labor and Employment Law Overview requirements for other states

Federal law and guidance on this subject should be reviewed together with this section.

Author: XpertHR Editorial Team

Summary

  • Wisconsin law prohibits an employer from discriminating and retaliating against employees in a variety of protected classes. Employers must also allow employees access to their personnel files. See EEO, Diversity and Employee Relations.
  • Wisconsin permits, but limits, preemployment criminal checks. See Recruiting and Hiring.
  • In Wisconsin, there are requirements relating to the minimum wage, overtime and child labor. See Wage and Hour.
  • Wisconsin has laws that relate to employee pay and benefits, including payment of wages, pay statements, pay frequency, wage deductions and health care continuation. See Pay and Benefits.
  • Under Wisconsin law, employees are entitled to certain leaves or time off, including family and medical leave, bone marrow and organ donation leave, Civil Air Patrol leave, emergency responder leave and day of rest requirements. See Time Off and Leaves of Absence.
  • Wisconsin law prohibits smoking in the workplace and texting while driving, and allows weapons in employees' personal vehicles. See Health and Safety.
  • When employment ends, Wisconsin employers must comply with applicable final pay, job reference and mass layoff notification requirements. See Organizational Exit.

Introduction to Employment Law in Wisconsin

Wisconsin has some laws that provide greater protections to employees than federal law, including broader antidiscrimination protections, health care continuation coverage obligations for smaller employers and bone marrow and organ donation leave requirements, but generally follows federal law with respect to topics such as the minimum wage, overtime pay and military leave.

Select Wisconsin employment requirements are summarized below to help an employer understand the range of employment laws affecting the employer-employee relationship in the state. An employer must comply with both federal and state law.

An employer must also comply with applicable municipal law obligations affecting the employment relationship, in addition to complying with state and federal requirements.

EEO, Diversity and Employee Relations

Key Wisconsin requirements impacting EEO, diversity and employee relations are:

Fair Employment Practices

The Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (WFEA) prohibits an employer from discriminating against or harassing any qualified person based on factors such as:

  • Age (40 years and older);
  • Ancestry;
  • Arrest and conviction record;
  • Creed;
  • Color;
  • Disability;
  • Marital status;
  • Military service;
  • National origin;
  • Nonparticipation in religious or political meetings or communications;
  • Race;
  • Sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, maternity leave or related conditions);
  • Sexual orientation; or
  • Use or nonuse of lawful products off the employer's premises during nonworking time.

It is unlawful to terminate or otherwise discriminate against any individual because he or she has opposed a discriminatory practice, made a complaint, or testified or assisted in any proceeding under the WFEA.

Access to Personnel Files

Upon written request, current and former employees must be given the opportunity to review their personnel records:

  • Within seven working days of the request;
  • On two occasions per calendar year;
  • At a location reasonably near the employee's place of employment; and
  • During normal office hours or at some other reasonable time.

The employer may charge a reasonable copying fee if the employee wants a copy of information from the file.

Current and former employees are also generally entitled to review and copy their medical records.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on EEO, diversity and employee relations practices in Wisconsin can be found in the Wisconsin Employee Handbook Table of Contents, Disabilities (ADA): Wisconsin, EEO - Discrimination: Wisconsin, EEO - Harassment: Wisconsin, EEO - Retaliation: Wisconsin, HR Management: Wisconsin, Wisconsin Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Wisconsin? Federal requirements can be found in Disabilities (ADA): Federal, EEO - Discrimination: Federal, EEO - Harassment: Federal, EEO - Retaliation: Federal and HR Management: Federal.

Recruiting and Hiring

Wisconsin employers may ask applicants about criminal convictions and pending charges. If a pending charge is substantially related to the job sought, an employer may suspend its employment decision until the charge is resolved. If a conviction is substantially related to the job sought, the employer may refuse to hire the applicant.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on recruiting and hiring practices in Wisconsin can be found in Preemployment Screening and Testing: Wisconsin and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Wisconsin? Federal requirements can be found in Preemployment Screening and Testing: Federal.

Wage and Hour

Key Wisconsin requirements impacting wages and hours are:

Minimum Wage

Wisconsin's minimum wage is the same as the federal minimum wage, $7.25 per hour. Tipped employees may be paid $2.33 per hour as long as they reach the state minimum wage once tips are included.

An employer may take an allowance for providing an employee with meals (up to 30 percent of what the employee would be paid for a 40-hour week) and lodging (up to 20 percent of what an employee would be paid for a 40-hour week).

Subminimum wages may be paid to camp counselors, golf caddies, employees with disabilities, school training program workers between the ages of 14 and 18, and employees under 20 years of age who are employed for 90 or fewer consecutive calendar days.

Overtime

Wisconsin generally requires that nonexempt workers be paid one-and-one-half times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week.

Child Labor

Child labor laws in Wisconsin restrict the occupations in which minors may be employed and the number of hours and times during which they may work.

State law prohibits employment of minors under 18 years of age in occupations or workplaces that are considered dangerous or harmful to the life, health, safety or welfare of a minor or where a minor's employment may be dangerous or harmful to the life, health, safety or welfare of other employees or individuals. Additional restrictions apply to minors under the age of 16.

Minors under 14 years of age are generally prohibited from working, except in limited occupations.

Minors of any age may work under the direct supervision of the minor's parent or guardian in connection with the parent's or guardian's business, trade or profession (unless the occupation is prohibited for minors).

Minors 14 or 15 years old, except those employed in domestic service, farm labor or public exhibitions, may only work:

  • Up to three hours on a school day;
  • Up to eight hours on a nonschool day;
  • Up to 18 hours in a school week;
  • Up to 40 hours in a nonschool week;
  • Up to six days per week; and
  • From 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. from the day after Labor Day to May 31 (to 9:00 p.m. from June 1 to Labor Day).

Minors may not work more than six consecutive hours without a meal period of at least 30 minutes.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on wage and hour practices in Wisconsin can be found in the Wisconsin Employee Handbook Table of Contents, Minimum Wage: Wisconsin, Overtime: Wisconsin, Child Labor: Wisconsin, Wisconsin Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Wisconsin? Federal requirements can be found in Minimum Wage: Federal, Overtime: Federal and Child Labor: Federal.

Pay and Benefits

Key Wisconsin requirements impacting pay and benefits are:

Payment of Wage

Wisconsin employers may pay wages in cash or by check. However, if an employer pays wages in time checks or other paper method, they must be payable at a designated place of business in the county in which the work was performed, at the employer's office (if within Wisconsin) or at a bank within the state.

Pay Statements

Employers are required to include with employees' pay a statement of the number of hours worked, the rate of pay and the amount of and reason for any deductions taken, except for any miscellaneous deductions of a personal nature authorized by the employee.

Pay Frequency

State law requires employers to pay employees all wages at least once per month. Exceptions apply.

Wage Deductions

An employer may deduct from an employee's wages:

  • State and federal taxes and FICA withholdings;
  • Creditor garnishments under a court order; and
  • Child support under an income withholding order.

Deductions also may be made for loss, theft, damage or faulty workmanship under certain conditions.

Health Care Continuation

Wisconsin's health care continuation coverage law applies to employers of any size. Eligible employees and dependents may elect to receive continued health care coverage after the employee voluntarily or involuntarily terminates employment (unless terminated for misconduct), the employee dies or the employee's marriage ends in divorce or annulment. Unlike federal COBRA, Wisconsin's law does not include a maximum coverage period, but provides the circumstances under which coverage will end (e.g., the individual moves out of state or becomes eligible for other comparable coverage). In certain circumstances, an individual may be required to convert to an individual policy after 18 months of continued group coverage.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on pay and benefits practices in Wisconsin can be found in Payment of Wages: Wisconsin, Involuntary and Voluntary Pay Deductions: Wisconsin, Health Care Continuation (COBRA): Wisconsin, Wisconsin Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Wisconsin? Federal requirements can be found in Payment of Wages: Federal, Involuntary and Voluntary Pay Deductions: Federal and Health Care Continuation (COBRA): Federal.

Time Off and Leaves of Absence

Key Wisconsin requirements impacting time off and leaves of absence are:

Family and Medical Leave

The Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave Act (WFMLA) requires employers that employ 50 or more employees on a permanent basis to provide eligible employees with up to:

  • Six weeks of leave for the birth or adoption of a child;
  • Two weeks of leave to care for a parent, child, spouse or domestic partner with a serious health condition; and
  • Two weeks of leave for the employee's own serious health condition.

An eligible employee is one who has worked for a covered Wisconsin employer for more than 52 consecutive weeks and for at least 1,000 hours during that period.

Other Time Off Requirements Affecting Wisconsin Employers

In addition to the WFMLA, a Wisconsin employer is also required to comply with several other leave and time off laws, such as:

  • Bone marrow and organ donation leave (covering employers with 50 or more employees);
  • Voting leave;
  • Election official leave;
  • Military leave;
  • Civil Air Patrol leave (covering employers with 11 or more employees);
  • Emergency responder leave;
  • Jury duty leave;
  • Witness leave;
  • Day of rest requirements.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on time off and leave of absence practices in Wisconsin can be found in the Wisconsin Employee Handbook Table of Contents, FMLA: Wisconsin, Jury Duty: Wisconsin, USERRA: Wisconsin, Other Leaves: Wisconsin, Hours Worked: Wisconsin, Wisconsin Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Wisconsin? Federal requirements can be found in FMLA: Federal, Jury Duty: Federal, USERRA: Federal, Other Leaves: Federal and Hours Worked: Federal.

Health and Safety

Key Wisconsin requirements impacting health and safety are:

Smoke-Free Workplace

Wisconsin law prohibits smoking in the workplace. The ban extends to any enclosed place that employees normally frequent, including an employee's immediate workspace and all surrounding areas, such as hallways, stairways, conference or meeting rooms, employee lounges, break rooms, cafeterias and other common areas.

An employer is required to post signs notifying employees of the prohibition and to take other reasonable efforts to prevent smoking in the prohibited areas.

Weapons in the Workplace

An employer may prohibit an employee from carrying guns or weapons into the workplace or during the employee's regular duties, even if the employee has a concealed carry permit.

However, an employer may not prohibit the holder of a concealed carry permit from storing a weapon in the employee's personal motor vehicle, even if the employee uses that vehicle in the course of employment or the vehicle is driven or parked on employer-owned property.

Safe Driving Practices

Texting while driving is banned in Wisconsin for all drivers. Although talking on cell phones is not banned for all drivers, Wisconsin has inattentive driving laws, which can hold a driver responsible if talking on a cell phone contributed to an accident. Commercial motor vehicle drivers are prohibited from using a handheld mobile telephone.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on health and safety practices in Wisconsin can be found in the Wisconsin Employee Handbook Table of Contents, HR and Workplace Safety: Wisconsin, Employee Health: Wisconsin, Workplace Security: Wisconsin and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Wisconsin? Federal requirements can be found in HR and Workplace Safety (OSHA Compliance): Federal, Employee Health: Federal and Workplace Security: Federal.

Organizational Exit

Key Wisconsin requirements impacting organizational exit are:

Final Pay

Employees (except sales agents employed on a commission basis) who quit or are terminated must be paid in full by the employee's next regular payday.

An employee must be paid within 24 hours of termination resulting from a:

  • Merger;
  • Liquidation;
  • Cessation of business operations, in whole or in part; or
  • Relocation of all or part of the business.

References

A Wisconsin employer that provides a prospective employer information regarding an employee's job performance or employment qualifications is presumed to be acting in good faith and enjoys qualified immunity from civil iability.

An employee may show the employer acted in bad faith by proving the employer:

  • Knowingly provided false information;
  • Made the reference maliciously; or
  • Made the reference in a discriminatory manner.

Mass Layoff Notification

Wisconsin requires employers with 50 or more employees in the state to give 60 days' notice of a business closing (affecting 25 or more employees) or mass layoff (affecting the greater of 25 percent of the employer's workforce or 25 employees, or termination of 500 or more employees) to:

  • Affected employees;
  • Union representatives;
  • The highest official of the municipality in which the employer is located; and
  • The state.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on organizational exit practices in Wisconsin can be found in Payment of Wages: Wisconsin, Involuntary Terminations: Wisconsin, Employee Communications: Wisconsin, Wisconsin Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Wisconsin? Federal requirements can be found in Payment of Wages: Federal, Involuntary Terminations: Federal and Employee Communications: Federal.