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Navigating employment-related legal issues can be a challenging and often unsuccessful endeavor. A study spanning 26 years revealed that only 15% of federal employment-related lawsuits resulted in a plaintiff victory, compared to 51% for non-employment-related cases.

In Wisconsin, employment law cases have mixed outcomes. While juries and courts tend to hold large businesses accountable for upholding workplace civil rights, the state has a high number of EEOC claims for discrimination against African-American employees. According to a University of Massachusetts Amherst report, 23.56 out of 100,000 employed Wisconsinites filed discrimination claims within a four-year span. Moreover, 63% of these claimants lost their jobs, 34% faced retaliation, and only 5% received monetary compensation.

While the outlook for those facing employment-related legal issues seems bleak, the current labor shortage could prove to be a beacon of hope. With employers scrambling to attract talent, competitive salary and benefit packages are becoming more common. This shift in power dynamics enables workers to seek better opportunities.

As citizens prepare to enter the workforce or grow their careers, it is crucial to understand the state's employment and labor laws. Employment laws focus on the employee-employer relationship, while labor laws additionally involve labor organizations.

With that in mind, this article delves into the intricacies of Wisconsin's civil rights and labor standards laws, providing a comprehensive overview of the legal framework that protects the Badger State's workforce.

Wisconsin Right-to-Work Laws

In Wisconsin, employees can form or join a labor organization and engage in collective activities to protect their interests. This right is under the National Labor Relations Act, which empowers employees to:

  • Discuss and negotiate terms and conditions of employment with their employers. 

  • Engage in strikes or picketing under specific circumstances.

  • Take action to improve working conditions.

Employers are prohibited under the NLRA from engaging in activities that could undermine or interfere with employees' right to organize a union. These prohibited actions include:

  • Promising better pay or benefits to discourage union membership.

  • Videotaping peaceful union organizing activities.

  • Restricting union solicitation during non-work hours. 

Wisconsin labor laws also uphold the right-to-work principle. This means that no person can be compelled to join a labor organization or pay union dues as a condition of employment. Employees are free to choose whether or not to participate in union activities.

Wisconsin Wage and Hour Laws

Minimum Wage

The following table summarizes the current minimum wage in Wisconsin:

Employee Type

Minimum Wage



Opportunity Employee


Tipped Employee


Tipped Opportunity Employee


- Nine holes
- 18 holes


Camp Counselors (Adult/Minor)
- No Board or Lodging
- Board Only
- With Board or Lodging


The wages of tipped employees must still reach the minimum of $7.25. If the minimum wage cannot be reached based on tips alone, the employer must supplement it. 

Moreover, opportunity employees — those under 20 years old — can start at $5.90 for 90 days and move to the $7.25 wage minimum afterward. Note that some counties and cities may have higher minimum wage requirements. 

Overtime Pay

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employees must receive overtime pay at a rate of at least one-and-a-half times their regular pay for hours worked beyond 40 in a workweek. However, specific individuals are exempt from these overtime pay requirements:

  • Taxi drivers, due to the independent nature of their work and the uncertainty of passenger demand, are not subject to overtime pay regulations.

  • Sales professionals, including commissioned salespeople, are often exempt from overtime pay since they may need additional hours to reach their quota.

  • Administrative and managerial employees, who typically hold positions of higher responsibility and authority, are often exempt from overtime pay due to unpredictable workloads.

  • Car dealership employees, including sales agents and mechanics, are generally exempt from overtime pay due to the need to be available during peak seasons.

  • Domestic or household employees, such as nannies, housekeepers, and personal assistants, are typically exempt from overtime pay regulations in light of their often irregular schedules.

Wage Payment

Employers must pay their employees their entire wages, in full and on time, at least once a month. For those working in logging or farm labor, wages must be paid even more frequently, at least once a quarter.

This means employees must receive their full wages (100%) on the designated payday. Employers cannot deduct bank-related fees, such as service or check fees, from employee wages.

If wage payments are made using methods other than cash, the employer must ensure that the chosen method is readily accessible to the employee. For employees who have resigned or been terminated, their final paycheck must be paid to them on their scheduled payday.

Wage Deductions

Payroll deductions for loss, damage, theft, or faulty work are permissible only if the employee provides prior written consent. Without such authorization, employers cannot make these deductions unless the employee's actions are deemed illegal or negligent.

Furthermore, business owners are responsible for covering the costs of medical examinations required as a condition of employment. Employees should not be burdened with the expense of these tests.

Meal and Break Periods

In Wisconsin, employers are not legally required to provide meal breaks for adult employees, but it is recommended that they do so. Meal periods should be at least 30 minutes long and scheduled around 6:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m., and 12:00 a.m. 

Employers must compensate employees for meal periods during work hours, specifically when the employee cannot take a continuous 30-minute break from work or is not permitted to leave the employer's premises. Conversely, off-duty meal breaks lasting 30 minutes or more, during which the employee is fully relieved of work duties, are not mandated to be paid.

Note that individuals under 18 must be provided with a meal break after working a maximum of six consecutive hours. Employers have the discretion to mandate additional breaks for their employees.

One Day of Rest in Seven

All employees in factories and commercial establishments are entitled to one rest day for each calendar week worked. This rest day does not have to be a Sunday, and employees can choose not to take it by submitting a written request to their employer. 

The following are exempt from the rest day requirement:

  • Security personnel.

  • Janitors.

  • Restaurant, bakery, and mill employees.

Employers, employees, and labor unions that want to modify this requirement must submit a waiver to the Wisconsin Equal Rights Division. ERD will review the waiver and grant it if it finds that the modification is in the best interests of the employees.

Family and Medical Leave

In addition to the Family and Medical Leave Act, Wisconsin has its own policy. Both may cover an employee, but federal law can grant added provisions. Under Wisconsin law, certain types of employers must provide unpaid leave, subject to considerations such as


Coverage Under Wisconsin Law


Businesses with 50 or more employees for at least six months of the preceding year 

Employee Eligibility

Has worked for at least 52 weeks and logged at least 1,000 hours

Leave Duration

During one year:

- Six weeks for childbirth or adoption
- Two weeks for a family member’s serious sickness
- Two weeks for own employee’s serious sickness

Leave Rationale 

- Childbirth, adoption, or placing a child in foster care
- Caring for a sick spouse, partner, child, or partner’s parent
- An employee’s recovery from sickness

Paid Leave Substitution

Employees can choose to substitute any accrued paid or unpaid leave provided by their employer for any portion of their FMLA leave.

Medical Certification/ 

Fit-To-Work Requirement

When requesting leave, medical certification is required. There are no provisions for fit-to-work requirements.

Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Leave

Businesses with 50 or more employees may be required to comply with the Wisconsin Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Leave Act. Under this ordinance, eligible employees may take up to six weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period to donate bone marrow or an organ for transplantation. Employees must provide written verification of their donation status and are required to take leave only for the duration of the procedure and subsequent recovery period.

Discontinuance of Health Care Benefits

Employers are required to give employees at least 60 days' notice before discontinuing health care benefits. Failure to comply with this requirement may result in the employer being liable for the employee's insurance premiums during the no-notice period, as well as any medical expenses incurred during that time.

Wisconsin Workplace Safety Laws

Businesses in Wisconsin's private sector must adhere to federal OSHA regulations, which are divided into four categories: general industry, construction, agriculture, and maritime standards. OSHA advises small businesses on meeting various regulations, as authorized by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act.

Essentially, employers must implement OSHA-related standards, including reporting, recording, and educational and training programs. Other key requirements include ensuring workplace safety, establishing employee hazard warning systems, and reporting fatalities and injuries within eight and 24 hours, respectively. Employers must also provide personal protective equipment to employees at no cost.

Meanwhile, employees have the right to access records of work-related injuries, obtain copies of hazard test results, and confidentially request OSHA inspections if they suspect workplace hazards or employer non-compliance.

Wisconsin Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Laws

Discrimination Laws

The Wisconsin Fair Employment Law prohibits discrimination against employees and job applicants based on the following characteristics:

  • Age (40 and older).

  • Religious beliefs (creed).

  • Physical or mental disabilities.

  • Ancestry or national origin.

  • Sex or sexual orientation.

  • Marital status, pregnancy, or childbirth.

  • Past arrests or convictions.

  • Military service.

Additionally, the law protects employees and job applicants from discrimination based on their use of lawful products, such as prescriptions, tobacco, and alcohol, off the employer's premises. Furthermore, the law prohibits the use of genetic testing and lie detector tests to make employment decisions.

Harassment Laws

Workplace harassment can manifest in two forms: identity-based and action-based. Identity-based harassment targets individuals due to their personal characteristics, such as race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. Action-based harassment, on the other hand, involves unwanted advances and other verbal or physical actions of a sexual nature.

Examples of workplace harassment include derogatory language, mimicry, offensive gestures, lewd jokes, and other unwelcome conduct. For harassment to be considered legally actionable, it must not be an isolated incident but rather pervasive or repeated, creating a hostile or offensive work environment.

Employers can be held legally responsible for harassment that occurs in their workplace, even if they are unaware of it. Therefore, they must implement proactive measures to prevent and address workplace harassment effectively. Know that Wisconsin employment and labor laws currently do not extend protection to workplace bullying unrelated to protected personal characteristics.

Social Media Law

Wisconsin safeguards the online accounts of employees and job seekers. This protection extends to current and prospective employers, so individuals may refuse to provide access to their social media profiles without facing discrimination. This ensures that workers retain control over their online privacy and are not subjected to unwarranted scrutiny from their employers.

Is Wisconsin an At-Will Employment State?

Yes. Wisconsin adheres to the at-will employment doctrine, which grants both employers and employees the freedom to terminate an employment relationship without prior notice or justification. However, this general rule is subject to two exceptions: the termination must not contravene the law, or it must not violate public policy.

Unlawful terminations can occur in situations such as dismissal for refusing to attend a meeting or discrimination based on age, gender, or marital status. Although an illegal termination can also be considered a violation of public policy, Wisconsin courts have adopted a more comprehensive definition of public policy. Under this broader interpretation, it encompasses an array of administrative regulations, constitutional principles, and statutory provisions.

What Qualifies as Wrongful Termination in Wisconsin?

If an employer fires an employee for a reason prohibited by law, the termination is considered wrongful. Here are some examples:

  • Dismissing an employee because of their pregnancy.

  • Firing an employee after they file a workers' compensation claim.

  • Retaliating against an employee for refusing to do something illegal.

  • Discharging an employee for reporting safety violations or unethical behavior.

Conversely, these actions are not considered wrongful termination:

  • Discharging an employee based on a false allegation.

  • Dismissing an employee who is deemed unfit for the position.

  • Terminating an employee's employment after complaining about their manager's behavior to HR.

Note that employers are allowed to make certain discriminatory decisions in hiring and employment, provided that these are based on a bona fide occupational qualification. For instance, an employer may:

  • Reject an applicant with a criminal history if the job requires a high level of security or safety clearance.

  • Impose an age limit for physically demanding jobs.

  • Not hire an individual with a disability if their condition poses a significant risk to themselves or others.

How Do You Report an Employer in Wisconsin for Wrongful Termination?

Complaints covered under Wisconsin Civil Rights and Labor Standards Laws can be submitted to the ERD through its online portal or by mail. Use the appropriate form as indicated, which can be downloaded. 

Reporting a Civil Rights Complaint

Complaint Relevance

Submission Method

Discrimination Under Fair Employment Law


ERD-4206-E (Mail)

Entitled Leave Under the Wisconsin FMLA


ERD-8994-E (Mail)

Protected Leave for Bone Marrow or Organ Donation


ERD-18263-E (Mail)

Prohibitions and Protections Under Social Media Law


ERD-18262-E (Mail)

Retaliation for Reporting Elder Abuse 


ERD-13521-E (Mail)

Retaliation for Reporting Health and Safety Concerns


ERD-13593 (Mail)

Retaliation for Right-To-Know Toxic Substance Disclosure


ERD-13594 (Mail)

Retaliation for State Employee Whistleblowing


ERD-13859 (Mail)

Retaliation Under Fair Employment Law


ERD-18359 (Mail)

Reporting a Labor Complaint

Complaint Relevance

Submission Method

Wage Issues



General Labor Standards


LS-119-E (Mail)

Discontinuance of Health Care Benefits


ERD-18263-E (Mail)

If you wish to withdraw your complaint, file the form Request to Withdraw Complaint (ERD-4971). Should you need more guidance, call the ERD Madison or Milwaukee office at 608-266-6860 or 414-227-4384, respectively. These offices’ mailing and physical addresses are on the ERD contact page.

Reporting a complaint to EEOC

Complaints covered under federal laws can be submitted to EEOC. To initiate the process, visit the EEOC Public Portal and schedule a phone or in-person interview. The EEOC Field Office is located in Milwaukee.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Termination Cases in Wisconsin

The time limit for filing a complaint varies depending on whether it is submitted to ERD or EEOC. Here's a breakdown:

Complaint Relevance

ERD Deadline (After the Incident)

Discrimination Under Fair Employment Law

300 days

Entitled Leave Under the Wisconsin FMLA

30 days

Protected Leave for Bone Marrow or Organ Donation

30 days

Prohibitions and Protections Under Social Media Law

300 days

Retaliation for Reporting Elder Abuse  

300 days

Retaliation for Reporting Health and Safety Concerns

30 days

Retaliation for Right-To-Know Toxic Substance Disclosure

300 days

Retaliation for State Employee Whistleblowing

60 days

Retaliation Under Fair Employment Law

300 days

Wage Issues

Two years

Discontinuance of Health Care Benefits

300 days

The deadline for filing charges at EEOC is 300 days. For more information, call the organization at 1-800-669-4000.

How Much Can Someone Sue an Employer in Wisconsin for Wrongful Termination?

Settlement amounts for wrongful termination cases can vary widely across the United States, typically ranging from $10,000 to $120,000. In Wisconsin, the median compensation for EEOC claims involving wrongful termination is $5,500; only 11% of these claims are represented by an attorney.

While settlements can provide a faster resolution, pursuing a wrongful termination case through the court system may lead to a higher recovery. Court awards for unlawful termination can reach up to $300,000; in rare instances, they can even exceed $1 million.

Possible remedies for wrongfully terminated employees include job reinstatement and back pay with interest. Punitive damages and compensation for emotional distress are generally not available in wrongful termination cases, but they may be awarded in federally filed cases.

Given the potential for higher recoveries and broader remedies, wronged employees are strongly encouraged to consult an employment attorney. An experienced lawyer can help protect their rights, build a strong case, and determine the best course of action for pursuing a wrongful termination claim. 

Legal Resources for Employees in Wisconsin

Ultimately, job-related legal issues can be overwhelming for employees. The resources below can provide further guidance, empowering individuals to take appropriate action to address their concerns.  

Pension and Health Care Coverage for Dislocated Workers

Employment changes can impact pension and health care coverage, but various government agencies have implemented protective measures. Dislocated workers can consult the U.S. Department of Labor's guide for obtaining such benefits. The Wisconsin Job Center also provides a list of healthcare options available to these individuals. Additionally, the federal health insurance exchange offers financial assistance to qualified unemployed individuals.

Wisconsin State Law Library’s Online Resource

Legal resources can be found on the Wisconsin State Law Library’s website. Employees can check out information on free or low-cost legal help in their county. Possible assistance providers are Community Justice Incorporated, Legal Action of Wisconsin, and UW Law School’s Economic Justice Institute.

National Alliance on Mental Health Wisconsin

Employees who encounter workplace issues, such as discrimination or missed job opportunities due to their mental health conditions, can seek assistance from NAMI Wisconsin's online resources. Additionally, the ADA Information Line can be reached at 800-514-0301 or 1-833-610-1264 to provide further information regarding workplace rights. The Job Accommodation Network also offers assistance with employment-related ADA information.

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