Compliance Watch:
What are my rights as a salaried employee in Wisconsin?

January 29th 2024

Learning and understanding your rights as a salaried employee in Wisconsin empowers you to navigate your professional path with confidence. 

As you clock in at work every workday, the steady compensation you receive shapes your position in the workplace. However, the intricacies of employment arrangements vary significantly across different states within the United States.

This article aims to guide you on your rights and entitlements as per Wisconsin labor laws and address any questions that have sparked your interest. We will explore the intricacies of your rights, guiding you towards a more enlightened and empowered work experience that is based on the particular regulations of Wisconsin.

This Article Covers

Defining a Salaried Employee in Wisconsin
Common Questions About Salaried Employee Rights in Wisconsin
Understanding Exempt vs. Non-Exempt Status in Wisconsin
Wage and Hour Regulations in Wisconsin
Deductions, Benefits, and Protections in Wisconsin
Taking Action Against Violations in Wisconsin
Case Studies and Real-Life Scenarios of Salaried Employee Rights Violations in Wisconsin

Defining a Salaried Employee in Wisconsin

What is Salaried Employment in Wisconsin?

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development defines a salary as a regular amount of compensation consisting of all or part of an employee’s wages that can’t be reduced due to the quality or quantity of their work. Therefore, a salaried employee in the state is any employee who receives a fixed predetermined compensation regardless of the amount of work delivered and its quality. 

Employers in the state are required to pay their employees at least once every calendar month, with no more than 31 days between paydays. However, employees who are engaged in logging and farm labor can be paid quarterly while technicians can be paid annually. Part-time firefighters and emergency personnel are exempted from the pay period laws as well. All employees in the state, regardless of the frequency of payment, must be paid through direct deposits but employers must provide pay stubs detailing the amount of payment, deductions, and the corresponding reason for every deduction.

What are the Key Differences Between Salaried and Hourly Employees in Wisconsin?

Aspect Salaried Employees Hourly Employees
Compensation Basis Paid a fixed salary regardless of the quality and quantity of work. Paid an hourly wage.
Overtime Eligibility Exempt from overtime regulations if they meet the federal criteria for exemption. Typically eligible for overtime pay for time worked beyond 40 hours in a workweek.
Minimum Wage Subject to either the state’s minimum wage or the federal minimum salary threshold for exempt employees.  Entitled to the state’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. 
Benefits May be entitled to comprehensive benefits, including up to 12 weeks of job-protected family and medical leave.  Benefits are generally less comprehensive compared to salaried employees, and may vary based on employer policies.
Record-Keeping Generally not required to keep comprehensive records of hours worked since they receive a fixed salary. However, they could track their time to enjoy the benefits of tracking salaried employees hours in the US.  Must track hours worked and employers are required to maintain accurate time records, including regular and overtime hours worked and the rate of compensation paid for each category.
Job Roles Typically perform managerial, professional, or administrative duties if exempt.  Typically employed in roles that require less responsibility. 
Job Stability Generally have more job security and income stability.  May have less stable employment due to susceptibility to fluctuations in demand for labor. 

Common Questions About Salaried Employee Rights in Wisconsin

What are the Basic Rights of Salaried Employees in Wisconsin?

Salaried employees in Wisconsin have the following rights:

  1. Right to a Safe Workplace: Wisconsin’s Occupational Health Program enforces laws that guarantee all employees in the state a safe and healthy workplace. The state also upholds the provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which grants employees in the state the right to receive workplace safety training, refuse to work in an unsafe environment, receive safety equipment, request inspections, and receive relevant information on the safety of their workplace without facing retaliation from their employer. 
  2. Right to Minimum Wage: Non-exempt salaried employees in Wisconsin are entitled to compensation of at least the state’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
  3. Right to Equal Pay: All salaried employees in the state are protected from wage discrimination. Employees who perform jobs that require equal skill, effort, and responsibility are entitled to the same amount of compensation. Employers in the state can only base pay differentials on merit, seniority, or commissions. 
  4. Right to Unionize: Wisconsin is a right-to-work state. Employees in the state have the right to join and participate in the activities of a labor union without fear of retaliation from their employer. 
  5. Right to Fair Treatment: The Wisconsin Fair Employment Law prohibits any form of workplace discrimination on the basis of the following protected characteristics:
      • Age
      • Arrest and/or Conviction Record
      • Ancestry
      • Color
      • National Origin 
      • Race
      • Creed
      • Disability
      • Genetic Testing
      • Honesty Testing
      • Marital Status
      • Military Service
      • Pregnancy or Childbirth
      • Sex
      • Sexual Orientation
      • Use or nonuse of lawful products off the employer’s premises during non-working hours

Is Overtime Pay Applicable to Salaried Employees in Wisconsin?

Yes, Wisconsin overtime laws entitle non-exempt salaried employees in the state to overtime pay for all time worked in excess of 40 hours in a workweek. All salaried employees who meet the federal criteria for exemption are not eligible for overtime. Similarly, the state establishes other categories of employees who are not eligible for overtime. These include:

  • Taxicab drivers
  • Employees of funeral establishments
  • Local delivery drivers and their helpers
  • Employees or amusement and recreational establishments
  • Employees of motion picture theaters
  • Agricultural employees.

In addition to these exemptions, the state enacts a special rule for employees of hospitals and healthcare facilities that take care of the sick, aged, mentally ill, or people with disabilities. These employees can have their overtime computed as time worked in excess of 80 hours in a 14-day period as opposed to the standard basis of overtime computation, which is based on a 40-hour workweek.

Can Employers Deduct Wages from Salaried Employees in Wisconsin?

Yes, employers in Wisconsin are allowed to make deductions for state and federal taxes, social security, insurance premiums such as health benefits, and wage garnishments in compliance with court orders. Other deductions such as the recovery of losses from cash till shortages, breakages, and other losses to the business due to an employee’s actions are allowed on the condition that the employee authorizes them in writing.

Are Salaried Employees Eligible for Breaks and Leaves in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin salaried employees laws do not require employers in the state to provide rest or meal breaks to salaried employees aged 18 and above. However, minor employees in the state are entitled to 30-minute breaks for every six consecutive work hours.

While the state does not mandate employee breaks, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development encourages employers to provide regular breaks to all employees. Employers who heed this call to provide rest or meal breaks are expected to either pay employees for short breaks of less than 30 minutes or relieve them of all their duties and allow them to leave the premises if they wish for the entire duration of the break. 

Salaried employees in the state are not entitled to vacation leave, holiday leave, sick leave, or bereavement leave but are entitled to unpaid voting and jury duty leave. However, Wisconsin’s Family and Medical Leave Laws require employers with more than 50 permanent employees to provide up to six weeks of parental leave for the birth or adoption of a child, two weeks for sick employees to recover, and two weeks for employees who are caregivers to spouses, children, or parents with a serious health condition.

Can Salaried Employees Request Flexible Work Arrangements in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin state laws define a flexible work arrangement as a work schedule that establishes the number of days that an employee must work and the number of hours of work required each day but allows the employee to choose their time of arrival to work and departure time from work. State agencies in Wisconsin are required to develop flexible work arrangements that maximize the efficiency of their operations. However, there are no laws establishing similar requirements for private employers. Nevertheless, private employers in Wisconsin can enter private arrangements establishing alternative work arrangements with their employees.

Understanding Exempt vs. Non-Exempt Status in Wisconsin

What is the Definition of Exempt Status in Wisconsin?

Exempt status in the state refers to the exclusion of the categories of employees who are categorized as exempt from the state’s overtime regulations. Therefore, employees with exempt status in Wisconsin are not entitled to overtime pay regardless of the number of hours worked in a workweek.

What are the Implications of Exempt Status in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin upholds the federal exemptions for administrative, executive, professional, and computer employees, which are enforced by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The employees who meet the criteria for these exemptions are considered exempt. This status has the following implications for the employees and their employers: 

  1. Overtime Eligibility: Exempt employees are not eligible for overtime pay regardless of the number of hours worked in a workweek. This can be advantageous for employers since they do not have to pay time-and-a-half for time worked by the employees in excess of 40 hours in a workweek. However, it is disadvantageous for employees, who do not receive any additional compensation for exceeding 40 hours of work in a week.  
  2. Compensation Basis: Exempt employees earn a fixed salary regardless of the quality and quantity of their work. This provides income stability for the employees and eases payroll management for their employers.
  3. Job Duties: Exempt employees perform specific job duties, which are defined by the FLSA. Employers must accurately classify employees who perform these duties and meet the compensation basis and level criteria accurately to ensure compliance with labor laws and avoid the legal penalties associated with misclassification. 
  4. Eligibility for Certain Benefits: Exempt employees are eligible for job-protected benefits such as family and medical leave as stipulated by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Therefore, employers must provide these benefits to exempt employees.

  

What are the Differences Between Exempt and Non-Exempt Salaried Employees in Wisconsin?

Aspect Exempt Employees Non-Exempt Employees
Basis of Compensation Typically receive a fixed salary regardless of the quality or quantity of their work. May be paid on an hourly basis or earn a fixed salary that is not subject to reduction based on the quality and quantity of their work. 
Overtime Pay Not eligible for overtime pay regardless of the number of hours worked in a workweek.  Eligible for overtime pay at a rate of at least 1.5 times their regular rate for all time worked beyond 40 in a workweek.
Job Duties Typically perform exempt job duties, which include executive, administrative, professional, and computer-related roles. Typically engage in non-exempt job duties such as clerical, non-managerial, or manual work.
Minimum Salary Threshold Entitled to the federal minimum salary threshold of $684 per week as established by the FLSA.  Entitled to a minimum compensation of the state’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
Recordkeeping Employers are not required to keep records of hours worked and employees are not required to track time.  Employers are required to keep accurate records of regular and overtime hours worked by hourly employees. 

How to Determine if You’re Exempt or Non-Exempt in Wisconsin?

To determine whether you are exempt or non-exempt, consider the following set of tests and criteria:

  1. Salary Basis Test: Exempt employees are paid on a salary basis. They receive a fixed predetermined salary at least once every month regardless of the number of hours worked and the quality of their work. 
  2. Salary Level Test: There are certain salary thresholds that employees must meet to qualify as exempt in Wisconsin. These include;
        • For public employees – $35,568 annually or $684 weekly
        • For executive and administrative employees – $36,400 annually or $700 weekly
        • For professionals – $39,000 annually or $750 weekly
  3. Duties Test: Exempt employees in the state must perform duties that fall under any of the following exempt categories: 
    • Executive Exemption: Bona fide executive employees who meet the salary level and basis criteria are considered exempt if their main duties include managing their employer’s enterprise or one of its recognized divisions, directing the work of two or more employees, and influencing personnel decisions such as the hiring and firing of employees. 
    • Administrative Exemption: Bona fide administrative employees who pass the salary level and basis tests are considered exempt if they perform non-manual and office duties related to the management of their employer’s business, exercise discretion in their work, make independent decisions, and do not devote more than 20% of their work hours on other duties. 
    • Professional Exemption: Professionals who meet the salary level and basis criteria are considered exempt if their primary duties require extensive knowledge and education in a field of learning and science, the exercise of independent judgment, and are predominantly intellectual. Creative employees whose work requires imagination, invention, or talent fall under this category. 
    • Computer Employee Exemption: Computer programmers, software engineers, systems analysts, and other similarly skilled workers who meet the salary basis criteria and earn a minimum of $27.63 per hour are considered exempt in Wisconsin.

Wage and Hour Regulations in Wisconsin

What are the Minimum Wage Requirements for Salaried Employees in Wisconsin?

Non-exempt salaried employees in Wisconsin are entitled to a minimum compensation of the state’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Comparatively, exempt employees in the state are entitled to a minimum compensation of $684 per week or $35,568 per year. The only exception to these requirements are exempt computer employees, who are entitled to a minimum compensation of $27.63 per hour or $1,105.2 per 40-hour workweek.

How is Overtime Compensated for Salaried Employees in Wisconsin?

Eligible salaried employees in the state earn overtime pay for all time worked in excess of 40 hours in a workweek. Overtime pay is compensated at a rate of 1.5 times their regular rate. Employers can choose to offer compensatory time in lieu of monetary compensation for overtime. Comp time is compensated at a rate of 1.5 hours of comp time for every overtime hour. Please note that non-government employees are required to use up all their comp time within 31 days.

 

Deductions, Benefits, and Protections in Wisconsin

What are the Permissible Deductions from Salaried Employee Pay in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin state laws allow employers to make the following deductions from their employees’ salaries:

  • Court-Ordered Wage Garnishments: Garnishments for child support, student loans, unpaid taxes, payments to creditors, and alimony are permissible in the state. 
  • Deductions Authorized by Law: Deductions that are required by state and federal laws, which include taxes and social security are permissible.
  • Contributions to Benefit Plans: Employers can make deductions for contributions to health plans and other insurance premiums from an employee’s salary.
  • Recovery of Losses: Employers can make deductions to recover losses resulting from an employee’s actions. Permissible deductions include losses due to cash shortages, faulty workmanship, theft, or damaged equipment or property. However, these deductions are only permissible if an employee authorizes them in writing, is held liable for the losses by a court of law, or is found to have been negligent by their employer and a representative selected by the employee.

 

What are the Provided Employee Benefits and Protections Under Wisconsin State Law?

  • Workers’ Compensation: Employees in Wisconsin are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for illnesses and injuries sustained on the job.
  • Unemployment Compensation: Eligible employees in the state who lose their jobs through no fault of their own may be entitled to unemployment benefits. To determine your eligibility for these benefits, you can take this Wisconsin Unemployment Insurance test. 
  • Family and Medical Leave: Exempt employees are entitled to up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave as per the FMLA. Eligible employees in Wisconsin are entitled to similar benefits under the state’s family and medical leave program. 
  • Protection from Discrimination: Employees in Wisconsin are protected from any form of workplace discrimination on the basis of the protected characteristics that are recognized by state laws. 
  • Health and Safety Protections: All employees in the state are entitled to safe and healthy workplaces that are free from any known hazards or threats to their health and safety.

Taking Action Against Violations in Wisconsin

How to Report Violations to Authorities or Labor Departments in Wisconsin?

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development directs all labor violations in the state to its Equal Rights Division. You can report any labor standards and civil rights violations such as unpaid wages, personnel record disputes, workplace discrimination, and leave complaints to the division by filling out the Wisconsin Equal Rights Division Complaint form.

 

Case Studies and Real-Life Scenarios of Salaried Employee Rights Violations in Wisconsin

Equal Pay: Verona Area School District Pays $450,000 to Settle Wage Discrimination Suit

In June 2023, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Verona Area School District reached a settlement in the case: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Verona Area School District.

The EEOC had filed the lawsuit on behalf of female employees in some schools in the district, who alleged wage discrimination on the basis of gender. The employees, who included special education teachers and a female psychologist were paid significantly less than their male colleagues, some of whom had been hired recently. According to exhibits presented in court by the EEOC, the school district paid the female teachers between $3,000 and $17,000 less than their male colleagues while the female psychologist earned $16,000 less than a male colleague.

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin accepted a $450,000 settlement, which would be paid as monetary relief to the teachers. Additionally, the district would raise the employees’ salaries, review its compensation policy, and post information about the lawsuit all over its worksites. 

Lessons learned from the case: 

  • The case is a reminder that pay differences on the basis of gender are illegal. The only permissible basis for different levels of compensation in the state are merit, seniority, and commission-based pay structures. 
  • The involvement of the EEOC in the case is a testament of the robust federal reporting structure established for addressing workplace discrimination cases. 

Wage Violations: We Energies Pays $4.2 Million to Settle Uncompensated Time Lawsuit

In 2019, We Energies settled a wage violation lawsuit in the case: Luebke v. Wisconsin Electric Power Company et al

Nearly 800 employees of We Energies, which is part of the Wisconsin Electric Power Company, filed a lawsuit against their employer alleging that they attended shift change meetings for years but were not compensated for the time. The employees had to attend the meetings since the information shared during the sessions was crucial for their jobs. We Energies and the employees agreed to a settlement of $4.2 million

Lessons learned from the case:

  • The case is a reminder to employers to understand and define compensable time clearly to ensure that they compensate their employees for all time spent on work-related activities, including mandatory meetings before and after their shifts.
  • The case highlights the importance of accurate time tracking solutions to ensure that employees clock in for all the time they spend on work-related activities.

Final Thoughts

It’s important for salaried employees in Wisconsin to understand their rights and entitlements. Having a solid grasp of these rights will empower them to protect themselves against potential violations and advocate for their own welfare.

Staying up-to-date with changes in labor laws is a great way of maintaining a positive work environment. Given the intricate nature of employment regulations, seeking professional advice by consulting an employment attorney or reaching out to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development can offer invaluable information and direction.

Important Cautionary Note

When making this guide we have tried to make it accurate but we do not give any guarantee that the information provided is correct or up-to-date. We therefore strongly advise you seek advice from qualified professionals before acting on any information provided in this guide. We do not accept any liability for any damages or risks incurred for use of this guide.