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Quick and Easy Guide to Labor & Employment Law: Wisconsin

This state-specific guide covers labor and employment case law, statutes, rules, and regulations that HR professionals and clients often encounter or have questions about in Wisconsin.

At-Will Employment

The state of Wisconsin recognizes the "at-will employment" doctrine which allows both employers and employees to terminate an employment relationship at any time for no reason. Strozinsky v. School Dist. of Brown Deer, 237 Wis. 2d 443, 452 (2000). Wisconsin courts recognize two exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine: (1) unlawful purpose and (2) public policy.

An employer may not discharge an employee for an unlawful purpose such as on the basis of age, sex, race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, pregnancy or disability. Wis. Stat. § 111.31.

Finally, an employee may not be terminated for a reason that violates a fundamental and well-established public policy. Brockmeyer v. Dun & Bradstreet, 113 Wis.2d 561, 572-73 (1983). To succeed under this exception, an employee must prove (1) their termination must clearly contravene the public welfare, (2) their termination gravely violated the paramount requirements of the public interest and (3) the public policy was evidenced by a constitution or statutory provision. Id.

Right-to-Work Laws

Wisconsin is a right-to-work state. Employees have the right to join or refrain from joining labor organizations. Wis. Stat. § 111.04. An employer may not require an employee to join a union or pay dues as a condition of employment. Id.

Immigration Verification

Generally, Wisconsin places no additional employment verification procedures on employers beyond Federal I-9 compliance. There is no requirement to use E-Verify unless a Wisconsin employer has a business presence or employees in states mandating E-Verify.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin does not have any laws regulating drug and alcohol testing in the workplace; employers may implement any drug testing policy at their own discretion, provided that the policy does not violate any other law such as anti-discrimination laws.

Jury Duty Leave

An employer must allow an employee a leave of absence, without loss of time, for a period of court mandated jury service. Wis. Stat. § 756.255. It is unlawful for an employer to terminate or otherwise discipline an employee as a result of jury service. Id. An employer who discharges or disciplines an employee in violation of this section may be fined not more than $200 and may be required to make full restitution to the aggrieved employee, including reinstatement and back pay. Id.

Voting Leave

Wisconsin employers are required to provide employees up to three consecutive hours of unpaid leave to vote while the polls are open, provided employees request the time off prior to the election. Wis. Stat. § 6.76. Any voting leave taken will be unpaid. Id.

Parental Leave

Under Wisconsin law, an employee may take up to six weeks in a 12-month period for the birth of a child, the placement of an adopted child or to care for an immediate relative with a serious health condition. Wis. Stat. § 103.10. Under federal law, however, an employee may take up to 12 weeks of leave for the aforementioned reasons. 29 U.S.C. § 2612 (FMLA). The federal and state leave laws run concurrently. Employees are not entitled to receive pay while taking family leave. § 103.10(5).

Other Leave

Medical Leave

An employee may take up to two weeks of medical leave during a 12-month period in which they have a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform his or her work duties. Wis. Stat. §103.10(4). Employees are not entitled to receive pay while taking medical leave. §103.10(5).

Vacation Leave

In Wisconsin, employers are not required to provide employees with vacation benefits, either paid or unpaid.

Military Leave

An employee subjected to a period of service of up to four years, unless involuntarily retained for a longer period, is entitled to be restored to the same or similar position of their former position upon return. Wis. Stat. §230.32.

Smoking Laws

In Wisconsin, the smoking of tobacco products at a place of employment including break rooms, cafeterias, elevators and private offices is prohibited. Wis. Stat. §101.123. Employers are required to display non-smoking signs and no-smoking posters throughout the workplace. See. Id. An employer cannot discriminate against any person on the basis of using tobacco products outside of the workplace. See Wis. Stat. §111.35.

Break Time to Express Milk

Wisconsin does not have any state laws protecting breastfeeding mothers in the workplace. However, the Fair Labor Standards Act provides breastfeeding mothers with some workplace protections. 29 U.S.C. 207(7)(r). To be in compliance with the Act, employers must provide a breastfeeding mother with reasonable breaktime to lactate in a private designated space other than the restroom. An employer may be exempt from these provisions if such accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer. 

Meal Breaks

The State of Wisconsin only has a law regulating meal breaks for employees under the age of 18. Wis. Stat. § 103.68. Those employees may not work longer than six consecutive hours without receiving at least a 30-minute meal break. Id. Wisconsin law does not require that employers provide rest or meal breaks to adult employees. See id.

Minimum Wage, Overtime and Wage Recordkeeping

The State of Wisconsin's minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Wis. Stat § 104.035. Employers must still comply with federal wage laws and regulations. An employer can pay tipped employees $2.33 per hour as long as the employee's tips bring the total hourly wage up to the state minimum wage.

Provisions governing overtime pay can be found at Wis. Stat. § 103.025. Generally, if an employee works more than 40 hours in a week, he or she must be compensated at a rate of one and one-half times the regular rate of pay at which he or she is employed.

Every employer shall make and keep for a period of not less than three (3) years from the last date on which any employee is employed a record of the name, address and occupation of each of his or her employees, the rate of pay and the amount paid each pay period to each employee. The provision governing wage record keeping can be found at Wis. Stat. § 104.09.

Final Payments

The State of Wisconsin requires an employer to issue a final paycheck no later than the employer's next regularly scheduled payroll date when an employee quits or is terminated.  

Unemployment Insurance

Unemployment insurance benefits provide income to individuals who have lost work through no fault of their own. The benefits are intended to partially offset the loss of wages while an unemployed worker searches for suitable work or until an employer can recall the employee to work. Nothing is deducted from the employee's wages to pay for this coverage. Unemployment benefits are administered by the Department of Workforce Development and additional information regarding the benefits may be accessed at dwd.wisconsin.gov/ui/.

Workers' Compensation

The Wisconsin Workers' Compensation Act, Wis. Stat. § 102, et seq., applies to every employer in Wisconsin with three or more employees. Employees who suffer injuries and/or occupational diseases arising out of and in the course of their employment may be eligible to receive several types of benefits under the Act. Under the Act, a workplace injury must be immediately reported to the employer; failing to timely report an injury may result in a denial of benefits.

The Act is administered by the Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development and additional information regarding the Act may be accessed at dwd.wisconsin.gov/dwd/publications/wc/WKC-7580.htm.

Child Labor

Generally, 14 years is the minimum age for employment under Wisconsin state law. Minors below the age of 15 must possess a valid work permit before beginning employment. There are restrictions for places of work dealing with minors, as well as restrictions on the hours of the day a minor may work.

The laws may be found at: dwd.wisconsin.gov/er/laborstandards/workpermit/minoremployment.htm.

Gun Laws

An employer may prohibit an employee from carrying a concealed weapon during the course of his or her  employment. Wis. Stat. § 175.60(15m). However, an employer may not restrict the possession of concealed weapons in privately owned vehicles (whether on company property or not) as a condition of employment. Id. 

Equal Pay

Wisconsin prohibits employers from discriminating against any individual in promotion, compensation paid for equal or substantially similar work, on the basis of sex. Wis. Stat. §111.36.

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Guide last updated July 2021.

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