The Wisconsin Employment Law Guide

The state laws every business owner should know

Businesses must post all applicable state and federal labor law posters in the workplace.

Wisconsin labor law posters to download

Federal labor law posters to download

Wages and Breaks

Minimum wage
$7.25

The current minimum wage in Wisconsin is $7.25.

Tipped min wage
$2.33

The minimum wage for tipped employees is $2.33, except for trainees, who may be paid $2.13.

Employers are not allowed to require employees to participate in tip pooling or sharing arrangements. Employees may voluntarily agree to participate and rely on the employer to redistribute tips.

Overtime
1.5X

Employers are required to pay employees an overtime rate of 1 ½ time their regular pay when they work more than 40 hours in a workweek, unless otherwise exempt.

The federal overtime rule stipulates that the minimum salary requirement for administrative, professional, and executive exemptions is $684 per week, or $35,568 per year.

Breaks
None

Employers are not required to provide breaks or meal periods to adult employees, although it is recommended.

If a break is provided that lasts less than 30 minutes, it must be paid.

Employers with factories or mercantile establishments must provide employees with at least 1 period of 24 hours of rest every week unless an employee “states in writing that he or she voluntarily chooses to work without at least 24 consecutive hours of rest in 7 consecutive days.”

Minor Breaks
30 min per 6 hrs

All minors must be given a 30-minute, duty-free meal period when they work more than 6 consecutive hours.

Minors 16 and 17 years of age must have 8 hours of rest between shifts if they are employed after 8 p.m.

Final Paychecks

If an employee quits or is terminated, they must be paid all final wages by the next regularly scheduled payday.

If an employee is separated from the payroll of their employer because the employer merged, liquidated or disposed of the business, the employer (or the successors) must pay all due wages at the usual place of payment within 24 hours of separation.

Child Labor

Minors 14 and 15 years of age

Minors under the age of 16 (14 and 15) are subject to the following time restrictions:

After Labor Day through May 31: They may work a maximum of 8 hours on non-school days and 3 hours on school days, a maximum of 18 hours during school weeks and 40 hours during non-school weeks. The can work between the hours of 7 a.m and 7 p.m.

June 1 through Labor Day: They may work a maximum of hours on non-school days and 3 hours on school days, a maximum of 40 hours a week during non-school weeks and 18 hours during school weeks. They may work between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Minors 16 and 17 years of age

Minors under the age of 18 do not have any time restrictions other than that they may not work during school hours.

Breaks

All minors must be given a 30-minute, duty-free meal period when they work more than 6 consecutive hours. Minors 16 and 17 years of age must have 8 hours of rest between shifts if they are employed after 8 p.m.

Work restrictions

Minors may not work in the following establishments or positions: Adult bookstores; As an exotic dancer; Where alcoholic beverages are present, except for jobs that do not involve serving, selling, dispensing, or giving away the alcoholic beverages or as a bouncer, crowd controller, or identification checker; Many jobs at amusement parks, ski hills, street carnivals, or traveling shows; Where they may be exposed to lead or certain chemicals, including asbestos; Bingo games; In a confined space; Where they may be exposed to any infectious agent; Where a strike or lockout is in active progress; Working in or about plants or establishments manufacturing or storing explosives; Driving a motor vehicle or riding along the outside of a vehicle, with limited exceptions; Coal or other mining; Logging and sawmill operations, forest fire fighting and forest fire prevention operations, and timber tract and forestry service occupations; Work involving exposure to radioactive substances and to ionizing radiations; Wrecking, demolition, and ship-breaking operations; Slaughtering or meat packing, processing, or rendering; Manufacturing brick, tile, or similar products; Operating most heavy machinery and power tools; Roofing operations and work on or about a roof; Excavating operations.

Leave Requirements

Sick days

Employers are not required to provide paid or unpaid sick leave but must comply with their own established policies if they choose to implement one. 

Family and medical leave

The Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides unpaid leave for an employee’s serious health condition, the serious health condition of a parent, child or spouse, or for the birth or adoption of a child. A covered employer has at least 50 permanent employees during at least 6 of the last 12 months. Covered employees have worked for the employer for at least 52 consecutive weeks and for at least 1000 hours in the preceding 52 week period.

An employee may take up to eight weeks of combined leave for the birth or adoption of a child and to care for a family member with a serious health condition and, if applicable, up to two weeks for the employee’s own serious health condition. The employer may choose whether the leave is paid or unpaid.

An employee may take up to six weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period to undergo and recover from bone marrow or organ donation procedures.

Bereavement Leave

Employers are not required to provide bereavement leave but must comply with their own established policies if they choose to implement one.

Vacation time

Employers are not required to provide vacation leave but must comply with their own established policies if they choose to implement one.

If there is a policy in place that says vacation time will be paid out upon separation of employment, it must be followed.

Employers may establish a policy disqualifying employees from receiving payment for accrued vacation upon separation from employment if they fail to comply with certain requirements.

Employers may cap the amount of vacation leave an employee may accrue.

Employers can implement a “use-it-or-lose-it” policy that requires employees to use their vacation time by a set date, as long as employees have been informed in writing.

Holiday leave

Private employers are not required to provide paid or unpaid time off for holidays.

Jury Duty

Employers are not required to provide paid leave for time spent responding to a jury summons or serving on a jury, but employers must grant leave of absence without loss of time in service for the period of jury service.

Employers may not penalize or terminate employees for responding to a jury summons.

Voting Time

If an employee requests to take leave prior to the day of the vote or election, an employer must provide 3 hours of time off to vote. It does not have to be paid.

Witness Leave

Employers must provide leave to employees to appear in a criminal or juvenile proceeding pursuant to a subpoena.

This leave must be paid if the employee was the victim of the crime or if the proceeding involves them as an employee.

Military Leave

Any employee who leaves his or her position to perform military service or receive military training must be restored to that original position or to a position of like seniority, status, pay, and salary advancement.

Employers may require the employee to present evidence of satisfactory completion of the period of training or civilian service, or of honorable discharge from the armed forces.

The employee must also still be qualified to perform the duties of the position and must apply for re-employment within 90 days of completing military service or within six months of release from hospitalization for a service-related issue.

Reinstatement is not required if the employer’s circumstances have changed so drastically as to make it impossible or unreasonable to restore the person to the position, or if the military service was for a period of more than four years.

Emergency Response Leave

Employers in Wisconsin must allow their employees who are volunteer firefighters, emergency medical services practitioners, emergency medical responders, or ambulance drives to take leave to respond to an emergency. The employer may choose whether the leave is paid or unpaid.

Hiring, firing, and more

Discrimination

Federal law makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of: Race, Color, Age, Sex, Sexual orientation, Gender, Gender identity, Religion, National origin, Pregnancy, Genetic information, including family medical history, Physical or mental disability, Child or spousal support withholding, Military or veteran status, Citizenship and/or immigration status.

The Wisconsin Fair Employment Act makes it illegal for employers to discriminate based on the following: Race; Color; Age; Sex; Sexual orientation; Gender; Gender identity; Religion; National origin; Pregnancy; Genetic information, including family medical history; Physical or mental disability; Child or spousal support withholding; Military or veteran status; Citizenship and/or immigration status; Marital status; Arrest or conviction record; Use or non-use of lawful products; Garnishment for consumer debt.

The Wisconsin Fair Employment Act also makes it unlawful for an employer to in any way discriminate against an employee for declining to attend a meeting or participate in any communication about religious or political matters.

Employees who wish to file a discrimination claim have 300 days from the act triggering the claim to do so.

Click here to read our blog on what acceptable and unacceptable questions to ask during an interview.

Termination

Wisconsin is an employment-at-will state, which means that without a written employee contract, employees can be terminated for any reason at any time, provided that the reason is not discriminatory and that the employer is not retaliating against the employee for a rightful action.

In the case of lay offs and workforce reduction, Wisconsin law imposes several requirements in addition to those stipulated under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN).  Under state law, Employers with more than 50 employees must provide 60 days’ written notice before closing their business or conducting a mass layoff, including those that are contingent, such as the non-renewal of a contract.

Record Keeping

Regarding employment and payroll data, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and others, you must:

For at least 3 years: keep payroll records, certificates, agreements, notices, collective bargaining agreements, employment contracts, and sales and purchase records. Also keep completed copies of each employee’s I-9 for three years after they are hired. If the employee works longer than three years, hold on to the form for at least one year after the employee leaves. 

For at least 2 years: Keep basic employment and earning records like timecards, wage-rate tables, shipping and billing records, and records of additions to or deductions from wages. Also keep the records that show why you may pay different wages to employees of different sexes, such as wage rates, job evaluations, seniority and merit systems, and collective bargaining agreements.

For at least 1 year: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says employers should keep all employment records for at least one year from the employee’s date of termination. 

Other record-keeping laws that may apply to you: 

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, you need to keep records of job-related injuries and illnesses for five years. But some records, like those covering toxic substance exposure, have to be kept for 30 years.

You must keep files of benefit plans and seniority and merit systems while they are in effect and for at least a year after they end. You must also retain summary descriptions and annual reports of benefits plans for six years.

If your company is covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, you must also retain relevant records of leaves, notices, policies, and more for three years.

Additional laws that may apply to you

Uniforms, Appearance and Grooming

Wisconsin has no law that specifically addresses uniforms or payroll deductions for uniforms. Under federal law, any deduction that takes an employee below minimum wage or cuts into their overtime compensation would be a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Employers in the city of Madison may not discriminate based on hairstyle, beards, manner of dress, weight, height, facial features, or other aspects of appearance.

Pay Practices

Employers must pay their employees at least monthly on regular paydays the employer chooses in advance, with certain exceptions, such as for the logging and farming industries.

Background Checks

Employers who run background checks should ensure they’re following the requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which are available here.

Wisconsin requires that employers conduct background checks on the following types of employees or applicants: Personnel who work for a childcare facility, a child welfare agency, a children’s group home, a juvenile shelter care facility, or a temporary employment agency that provides caregivers to other entities; Caregivers who work for a facility that provides direct care to clients, including a hospital, a home health agency, a temporary employment agency that provides caregivers to other entities, or the board on aging and long-term care.

Credit and Investigative Checks

Wisconsin does not expressly allow or prohibit employers from obtaining credit reports on applicants or employees.

The city of Madison prohibits discrimination against applicants who chose not to disclose their SSN (unless required by law).

Arrest and Conviction Checks

Employers are prohibited from asking about arrests other than those that are pending.

Employers may ask whether an applicant has any pending charges or prior convictions, as long as the employer makes it clear that these will only be given consideration if the offenses are substantially related to the particular job.

Employer may not make a rule that no persons with conviction records will be employed. Each job and record must be considered individually.

Employer may only refuse to hire a qualified applicant because of a conviction record for an offense that is substantially related to the circumstances of a particular job. The “substantially related” test looks at the circumstances of an offense (e.g., where it happened, when, and how) and compares that to the circumstances of the job (e.g., where the job is typically done, when, and how). The more similar the circumstances, the more likely it is that a substantial relationship will be found.

Drug and Alcohol Testing

Wisconsin does not explicitly allow or prohibit testing employees or applicants for drugs or alcohol, except for employees of public works projects.

Whistleblower Protection

Employers may not discharge or discriminate against an employee for many types of whistleblowing. Examples of protected activity include the following:

Filing a complaint or participating in a proceeding regarding a violation of labor law, such as child labor or payment of wages

Exercising their rights under the First Amendment

COBRA

COBRA is a federal law that allows many employees to continue their health insurance benefits after their employment ends. Because federal COBRA only applies to employers that have 20 or more employees, many states have adopted their own versions of the law, which are known as “mini-COBRAs.” Wisconsin’s mini-COBRA allows employees to continue their coverage for up to 18 months. Employers must provide an employee with a notice of their COBRA rights within five days of the triggering event. The notice must include information regarding premium payments.

Scheduling

Employers with factories or mercantile establishments must provide employees with at least 1 period of 24 hours of rest every week unless an employee “states in writing that he or she voluntarily chooses to work without at least 24 consecutive hours of rest in 7 consecutive days.”

Social Media Privacy

Employers may not request or require access information of an employee or prospective employee’s personal internet account. Employers may not refuse to hire, discharge, or otherwise discriminate against an employee or prospective employee for refusing to provide such information or for opposing a prohibited practice or participating in the enforcement of this law.

Sleep Time

An employee who is required to be on duty for less than 24 hours is working even though they are permitted to sleep or engage in other personal activities when not busy.

If an employee is required to be on duty for 24 consecutive hours or more, the employer and the employee, by mutual written agreement, may agree to exclude meal periods and a regularly scheduled sleeping period of not more than eight hours from hours worked per 24-hour period, provided adequate sleeping facilities are furnished by the employer and the employee can usually enjoy an uninterrupted night’s sleep.

Independent Contractor Test

To be considered an independent contractor and not an employee in the state of Wisconsin, an individual must meet and maintain all nine of the following conditions:

1. Maintain a separate business
2. Obtain a Federal Employer Identification number from the Federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or have filed business or self-employment income tax returns with the IRS based on the work or service in the previous year.
3. Operate under specific contracts.
4. Be responsible for operating expenses under the contracts.
5. Be responsible for satisfactory performance of the work under the contracts.
6. Be paid per contract, per job, by commission or by competitive bid.
7. Be subject to profit or loss in performing the work under the contracts.
8. Have recurring business liabilities and obligations.
9. Be in a position to succeed or fail if business expense exceeds income.

Compliance Calendar

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 Remember

This summary is not qualified legal advice. Laws are always subject to change, and they can vary from municipality to municipality. It’s up to you to make sure you’re compliant with all laws and statutes in your area. If you need more compliance help, we recommend consulting with a qualified lawyer, checking with your local government agencies, or signing up for Homebase to get help from our certified HR Pros. 

Additional Resources

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