Wisconsin Labor Laws

Wisconsin labor laws state that employers must comply with federal minimum wage laws. Currently, those laws stand at $7.25 per hour. The state's minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.33 per hour, except for trainees who are paid less at $2.13 per hour.

Tips are considered any monetary amount a customer gives as a gratuity or a gift in recognition of an employee's services. As such, tips are different from service charges because customers alone decide whether they leave a tip, how much that tip will be, and which staff member will receive it.

By contrast, service charges are required and the amount is either negotiated by the employer or fixed. A service charge cannot be counted as a tip unless all charges are distributed among the staff.

Other gifts received from customers, such as merchandise, passes, or tickets, are not considered tips.

A tipped worker is someone employed in a position that regularly receives tips from customers, such as a server or bartender. If an employer decides to pay the state's tipped minimum wage of $2.33 per hour, it must ensure tipped employees receive the standard federal minimum wage when both tipped wages and earned tips are combined.

In the event that a tipped employee does not earn enough tips to meet the standard minimum wage, the employer must pay the difference so the employee will earn at least $7.25 per hour. The difference between the standard minimum wage and the tipped minimum wage is often called a tip credit. Employers must have tipped employees sign a tip declaration every pay period to show that all employees were paid at least the standard minimum wage.

Subminimum Wage

Wisconsin minimum wage law allows businesses to pay disabled workers a subminimum wage rate, which amounts to less than the standard minimum wage. They can only do so if they have a specially issued certificate from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

When deciding whether to issue this certificate, the Department of Workforce Development considers the following:

  • the extent and nature of the employee's disabilities
  • how those disabilities relate to the individual's productivity
  • the wages of nondisabled employees in the industry
  • the productivity of a disabled worker compared to that of nondisabled employees
  • the productivity of experienced nondisabled workers
  • the wage rates owed a disabled employee for work comparable to similar tasks performed by nondisabled staff

When seeking a special license for subminimum wage rates, employers must agree to the following:

  • to review the special minimum wage rates at regular intervals, or at least every six months
  • to adjust wages for all workers at regular intervals, or at least once per year
  • to reflect any changes in wages paid to nondisabled workers for similar tasks

Prevailing Wage Minimum

Construction workers involved in public projects in Wisconsin are entitled to special, higher-than-minimum wage rates. These rates are based on an annual project survey and are referred to as prevailing wage depending on the type of skilled trade in question.

Trainees

Wisconsin labor laws allow businesses to pay trainees, also called opportunity employees, at a subminimum rate of $5.90.

In general, opportunity employees are under 20 years old and go to work within the first 90 days after being hired. Trainees can also earn a tipped minimum wage of $2.13.

Apprentices and Learners

Wisconsin does not allow businesses to pay apprentices or learners a subminimum wage. Their rate must not be less than the federal minimum wage.

Student Learners

Wisconsin labor laws do allow businesses to pay student learners subminimum wages as long as they are issued a special certificate. This certificate can also be obtained from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

A student learner is someone who attends an accredited school and is working part-time in a school training program. In general, regular student workers are not allowed to work at a subminimum wage.

Child Labor Laws

In Wisconsin, minors 14 or 15 years old can work as many as eight hours each day for a total of 40 hours per week, but this is only allowed during the summer. Otherwise, they can work three hours per day and 18 hours per week during the academic year.

Teens ages 14 to 15 are also limited to working between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. during the school year, or until 9 p.m. during the summer.

By contrast, 16- and 17-year-old teens can't be required to work during regular school hours. They must also be given a meal break and at least eight hours of rest before the next shift if they work after 11 p.m.

Meals and Breaks

Wisconsin labor laws do not require employers to offer employees over the age of 18 any specific type of break. However, those who work more than six hours at a time must get one 30-minute lunch break.

According to federal law, employers are required to pay for all hours worked, including those periods that might constitute a "break." The law also requires employers to pay for shorter breaks throughout the day, such as bathroom or snack breaks. As such, breaks lasting from five to 20 minutes are considered a regular part of the paid workday.

Hours Worked

Employees in Wisconsin must be compensated for all hours worked. Hours worked include all time spent in mental or physical exertion for the benefit of the employer's business. As such, it is the employer's job to make sure employees are not working when the employer doesn't require them to.

The Workweek

Wisconsin labor laws define a typical workweek as seven consecutive days. One day equals 24 hours.

Being On-Call

Wisconsin requires employers to count on-call time as hours worked, as long as the employee remains on the premises. Doing so helps meet the state's minimum wage and overtime requirements.

Sleeping Time

When employees are required to be on duty less than 24 hours and they are allowed to sleep during a shift, Wisconsin labor laws require employers to count that time as hours worked.

For employees on duty for 24 hours or more, the employer and employee might enter into an agreement excluding meal and sleep periods from hours worked.

Sleeping periods that may be excluded cannot exceed eight hours. The employer must also provide a sleeping facility where the employee can sleep uninterrupted.

Any sleep period with frequent or long interruptions must be counted as hours worked. Employees must be able to enjoy at least five hours of continuous sleep.

Even if the employee sleeps more than eight hours, the employer can only deduct eight hours of sleep time from the total hours worked. When there is no sleep-time agreement, all sleep time is considered hours worked.

Travel Time

Employers are not required to count commuting to and from work as travel time, but there are instances in which compensating for travel time is necessary.

Travel time is considered any hours worked when an employee has to travel a substantial distance from work to perform tasks after their regular shift has ended.

For example, if someone who usually works at a fixed location is required to work at a different job site, the employer should compensate that individual for travel time.

Whenever an employee travels away from home for the employer's benefit, including overnight travel such as conferences, the employer must count this travel time as hours worked.

Training, Lecture, and Meeting Time

Wisconsin labor laws require employers to count training, lecture, and meeting time as hours worked if the following criteria are met:

  • attendance is outside regular working hours
  • attendance is voluntary
  • the meeting is not related to the job
  • the worker does not perform productive tasks while attending the meeting

Attendance cannot be deemed voluntary if the employer requires an employee to attend.

Training instances are directly related to a person's job if the training event will make the employee perform their job more effectively.

Training time doesn't have to be counted as hours worked if the employee chooses to attend training at of his or her own choosing after work hours.

Show Up or Reporting Time

Unlike some states, Wisconsin labor laws do not require businesses to pay their workers for showing up to work if no work actually takes place that day.

Similarly, an employer doesn't have to compensate an employee for a minimum number of hours if that employee is dismissed before completing the regularly scheduled shift.

Vacation Leave

In Wisconsin, vacation leave is not a guaranteed benefit to employees regardless of whether the vacation time in question is paid or unpaid.

If an employer decides to offer vacation leave benefits, that employer must abide by the terms of the company's policy or employment contract.

An employer may decide to enter into a contract or establish a policy designed to disqualify workers from accrued vacation leave payments if those employees quit or otherwise fail to meet certain requirements, such as giving a two-weeks' notice.

By law, an employer must pay all accrued vacation time to an employee who quits as long as the company's policy or the employee contract requires it.

Employers may also decide to put a limit on the amount of vacation time an employee can accrue over time. Along those same lines, an employer can implement a so-called "use-it-or-lose-it" policy. This type of policy requires workers to use vacation leave by a set date or otherwise lose the accrued leave entirely.

Neither Wisconsin's courts or its legislature have offered any type of guidance on establishing employment policies or contracts related to accrued vacation time as it should be treated if an employee is fired or decides to quit their job.

Since Wisconsin places a high emphasis on the importance of employment contracts, any forfeiture provisions contained within a contract are lawful as long as the worker is given an opportunity to use the vacation time while still employed by the company.

Sick Leave

Wisconsin doesn't require employers to provide workers with either paid or unpaid sick leave benefits. Whether they decide to provide these benefits is at the sole discretion of the company, although offering competitive benefits does tend to attract and retain the best employees. Employers who do offer sick leave must abide by the terms of the company policy or employment contract.

A Wisconsin-based employer that provides employee sick leave must do so in accordance with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, Wisconsin's Family and Medical Leave Act, or other federal law.

Holiday Leave

Wisconsin labor laws do not require private businesses to extend paid or unpaid holiday leave to employees. In fact, the state specifies that a private employer can require workers to report in on holidays.

More than that, private employers in Wisconsin are not required to pay employees premium holiday pay, such as time-and-a-half, for working on holidays. The only time an employee can earn more than their standard pay during a holiday is if he or she works overtime. At this point, standard overtime laws kick in.

Jury Duty Leave

In Wisconsin, it is against the law for an employer to refuse time off for an employee who has been summoned for jury duty. The employer must grant a leave of absence without any loss of service or time for as long as the jury service lasts.

The employer does not have to pay a worker for time serving on a jury or for time spent responding to a jury summons.

Voting Leave

By law, Wisconsin businesses must provide employees with up to three hours of time off work to vote as long as an employee has requested leave the day before the election.

Voting leave does not need to be paid, although some employers may choose to pay. The employer can also decide when an individual can take voting leave during business hours.

Bereavement Leave

Unfortunately, Wisconsin law doesn't require businesses to offer bereavement leave, although many choose to do so as part of their company benefits. Those that do provide bereavement may specify how an employee can take the leave.

Parental Leave

Employees are given the ability to take up to 12 unpaid weeks off each year for the birth or adoption of a child, the care of a family member, or for other personal medical problems. These rights fall under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Unions and Right to Work

Wisconsin is not a "right to work" state and therefore does not regulate its union membership requirements. State employees are also allowed to opt out of becoming or being union members.

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