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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

Wisconsin has adopted the "at-will employment" doctrine, which allows both employers and employees to terminate an employment relationship with or without cause and notice. Strozinsky v. School Dist. of Brown Deer, 237 Wis. 2d 443, 452 (2000). Wisconsin courts recognize two exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine: unlawful purpose and public policy.

With regard to the unlawful purpose exception, an employer may not discharge an employee for an unlawful purpose such as on the basis of age, sex, sexual orientation, race, creed, color, marital status, national origin, arrest record, conviction record, ancestry, military status, pregnancy disability, use or nonuse of lawful products off the employer's premises during nonworking hours, or declining to attend a meeting or participate in any communication about religious matters or political matters. Wis. Stat. § 111.31.

With regard to the public policy exception, 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 show that: (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; bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing; and engage in lawful, concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection. Wis. Stat. § 111.04. An employer may not, as a condition of employment, require an employee to refrain or resign from membership in, voluntary affiliation with or voluntary financial support of a union, join a union, or pay dues or provide anything of value to a labor union. 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 and drug-free workplace policies 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. For the purpose of determining seniority or pay advancement, the status of the employee shall be considered uninterrupted by the 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 with 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. No penalty, other than a deduction for time lost, may be imposed upon an employee by their employer for taking time off to vote. Id.

Family and Medical Leave

Under Wisconsin law, employers with 50 or more employees are required to permit covered employees to take the following amounts of leave time under the following conditions.

Up to six weeks of family leave in a 12-month period for:

  • The birth of an employee's natural child, if the leave begins within 16 weeks of the child's birth
  • Either the placement of a child with the employee for adoption or as a precondition to adoption (but not both) if the leave begins within 16 weeks of the child's placement

Up to two weeks' leave in a calendar year to care for the employee's child, spouse, domestic partner, or parent, if the child, spouse, domestic partner, or parent has a serious health condition ("parent" means a natural parent, foster parent, adoptive parent, stepparent, or legal guardian of an employee or of an employee's spouse or domestic partner).

Up to two weeks of leave in a 12-month period to an employee with a serious health condition that makes them unable to perform the job. Wis. Stat. § 103.10.

Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, 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.

Family and medical leave under the FMLA and Wisconsin law is unpaid. Employees are not entitled to receive pay while taking family leave. Wis. Stat. § 103.10; 29 U.S.C. § 2612. However, employers are permitted to maintain more generous policies than the law requires.

Other Leave

Vacation Leave

In Wisconsin, employers are not required to provide employees with vacation benefits, either paid or unpaid. If an employer chooses to provide such benefits, it must comply with the terms of its established policy or employment contract. Wis. Stat. §109.01(3).

Military Leave

Wisconsin's Military Leave law applies to permanent state employees called to federal active duty for 90 days or longer. Any state 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, or to one with the same seniority, benefits, and pay, unless the employee is no longer qualified, the period of active duty service was not longer than five years unless extended by law, or the employer's circumstances have changed and reemployment is impossible or unreasonable. Wis. Stat. §230.32.

Smoking Laws

Wisconsin law prohibits the smoking of tobacco products at a place of employment, including break rooms, cafeterias, elevators employee lounges, restrooms, conference rooms, meeting rooms, and private offices. 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. Wis. Stat. §111.35.

Break Time to Express Milk

Wisconsin has not enacted laws at the state level regarding providing break time to express milk in the workplace. However, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides breastfeeding individuals with some workplace protections. 29 U.S.C. 207(7)(r). Under the FLSA, breastfeeding employees are entitled to reasonable break time and a private space (other than a bathroom) to pump at work for one year after their child's birth. Id.

Meal Breaks

Wisconsin does not require employers to provide breaks, including lunch breaks, for workers 18 years of age or older.

Wisconsin employers are required to provide employees under the age of 18 at least a 30-minute duty-free meal period when working a shift greater than six hours in duration. Wis. Stat. § 103.68.

Minimum Wage, Overtime, and Wage Recordkeeping

Wisconsin's minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Wis. Stat § 104.035. Employers must still comply with federal wage laws and regulations.

Wisconsin employers are permitted to pay tipped employees $2.33 per hour, and opportunity employees (trainees) may be paid $2.13 per hour, as long as the employee's tips bring the total hourly wage up to the state minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Id.

Generally, if an employee works more than 40 hours in a week, the employee must be compensated at a rate of one and one-half times their regular rate of pay. Wis. Stat. § 103.025.

Every employer shall make and keep, for a period of not less than three years from the last date on which any employee is employed, a record of the name, address, and occupation of each of their employees, the rate of pay, and the amount paid each pay period to each employee. Wis. Stat. § 104.09.

Final Payments

Wisconsin law 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. Wis. Stat. § 109.03(2). This law does not apply to sales agents employed on a commission basis. Id.

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. § 101, et seq. applies to all employers 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 promptly 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, subject to limited exceptions such as:

  • Agriculture
  • Street trades (delivering newspapers, selling products door-to-door or on the street)
  • Under direct supervision of the minor's parent or guardian in connection with the parent's or guardian's business, trade, or profession if the minor would otherwise be permitted to work in the same job at age 14
  • Caddies on golf courses (non-motorized carts)
  • Domestic work in and around the home of the employer if not in connection with or part of a trade or business
  • Sideline officials at high school football games
  • Ball monitors at high school football games or practices (as young as 11 permitted)
  • Official for athletic events sponsored by private, nonprofit organizations in which the minor would be eligible to participate or in which the participants are the same age or younger than the minor
  • School lunch programs for the school that the minor attends

A minor below the age of 15 must possess a valid work permit before beginning employment. There are restrictions dealing with minors for places of work, as well as restrictions on the hours of the day a minor may work.

The relevant guidance related to Wisconsin's Child Labor 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 their 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 where sex is not a bona fide occupational qualification. Wis. Stat. §111.36.

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Guide last updated November 2022.

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