Guide to Wisconsin employee benefits and HR rules

Wisconsin business owners and HR leaders have much to consider when deciding what perks to provide their workers. To understand the mandatory employee benefits you must offer in The Badger State, read the state’s employment laws in our guide below.

Are you looking for personalized benefits to help you comply with federal and Wisconsin benefits laws? PeopleKeep can help! Schedule a free consultation with a personalized benefits advisor.


Is your organization compliant with Wisconsin's employment laws?

If you have a Wisconsin-based organization or employ Wisconsin workers, learning everything you need to know about HR compliance in Wisconsin is crucial. In this guide, we’ll provide a general overview of Wisconsin's employment and benefits regulations for small to medium-sized businesses.

Topics covered in this guide include:

What are employment laws in Wisconsin?

The federal government sets minimum benefits and HR requirements for employers nationwide. However, many states create their own employment laws to offer additional employee protections—and Wisconsin is no exception.

The Wisconsin state government can fine employers between $10 to $100 per day for violating labor regulations. So, before opening or expanding your business in Wisconsin, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the state’s employment laws.

In Wisconsin, employers must follow several state-specific laws in addition to federal employment laws, such as:

  • At-will employment
    • Wisconsin is an “at-will” employment state. Employers may hire, terminate, promote, demote, lay off, or suspend employees with or without cause. They can also set work hours and policies at their discretion. However, employers can’t terminate employees due to discrimination or other illegal factors.
    • Employees who believe their employer fired them illegally can file a discrimination claim.
  • Wisconsin Fair Employment Law
    • This law prohibits employers with one or more workers from discriminating against any individual due to their sex, race, disability, age (40 and older), creed, color, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, marital status, arrest and conviction record, military service, use of lawful products (like alcohol or tobacco), and genetic testing.
    • The equal pay provision of this law also prohibits employers from discriminating against workers based on sex for jobs that use equal skill, effort, and responsibility in similar working conditions.
    • Employers are responsible for all discrimination and harassment, regardless of whether they knew it happened.
  • City of Madison Equal Opportunities Ordinance
    • As an extension of the Fair Employment Law, Madison employers can’t discriminate against individuals based on lawful source of income, less than honorable discharge, religion, domestic partners, homelessness, physical appearance, political beliefs, student status, unemployment, credit history, status as a victim of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking, retaliation, or refusal to disclose their Social Security number.
  • Child labor laws
    • Wisconsin's child labor laws restrict a minor’s working hours, the times they may work, and the types of work they may do. Employers may receive penalties for employing a minor without a valid work permit or violating other child labor regulations.
    • The law prohibits the employment of minors younger than 11. Employers hiring minors younger than 16 must obtain a state-issued work permit. Except for a few exceptions, the state restricts minors younger than 18 from working wherever liquor is sold.
  • Wisconsin Right-to-Work Law
    • Wisconsin is a right-to-work state, meaning no business, labor organization, or individual can require an individual to become or stay a labor organization member or pay union dues, fees, assessments, or charitable donations as a condition of new or continued employment.
  • Wisconsin's Business Closing and Mass Layoff (WBCML) Law
    • All employers with 50 or more employees closing a business or performing a mass layoff must give 60 days' notice to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, affected employees, unions, and the highest official in the town, village, or city where the business is located.
  • Medical examinations
    • Employers may ask candidates and current employees to take medical examinations. However, they must cover the cost of required examinations if they’re a condition of hiring or continued employment.
  • “One Day of Rest” Law
    • Employers must give all employees working in a factory or retail company 24 consecutive hours of rest each calendar week. However, the law doesn’t require the employer to provide a day of rest every seven days.
    • For example, an employer can give employees the first Sunday in a two-week period off but then have them work through Friday of the following week, as long as they have that Saturday off, which satisfies the one rest day per week minimum.
    • Certain job positions and employees who state in writing that they voluntarily waive the 24 hours of rest period are exempt.
  • Social Media Law
    • It’s illegal for employers to access an employee’s or applicant’s social media accounts. Employers can’t refuse to hire, discharge, or discriminate against an applicant or employee for refusing to provide access to their personal accounts.
  • Salary history and background checks
    • Unlike in many other states, employers can ask job applicants and employees about their salary history to determine employment.
    • Employers can also perform background checks on job applicants and employees. However, employers must inform candidates in writing and receive written consent before running the background check.
  • Arrest and conviction check laws
    • It’s illegal for Wisconsin employers to make employment decisions based on an applicant's arrest or conviction record.
    • Employers can’t create a blanket rule stating that they won’t consider individuals with an arrest record for employment. They can only refuse to hire an applicant if they have a conviction substantially related to the job.
  • Workplace accommodations for nursing mothers
    • Wisconsin doesn’t require employers to give nursing mothers breaks to express breast milk. However, the state must follow federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulations regarding these workers. Under the FLSA, employers must give nursing mothers breaks to express breast milk for one year after the child’s birth in a private space. Toilet stalls don’t meet the private space requirement.

Now that we’ve reviewed a few Wisconsin-specific laws, we’ll review the state’s employee rights.

What are employees’ rights in Wisconsin?

Employees in Wisconsin have many rights under state and federal laws. Regardless of your organization's size, you must know your employees' rights if you have or plan to hire employees in the state.

Some state rights include:

  • Fair wages
    • Employers must follow federal minimum wage requirements and overtime laws.
  • Meal periods
    • The law doesn’t require employers to offer their adult workers meal periods. However, the state recommends that employers give employees a 30-minute or longer break for meals. Employers must pay workers for rest periods that are shorter than 30 minutes.
    • Minors younger than 18 who work six consecutive hours must receive a 30-minute break close to the standard meal times of 6:00 a.m., 12 p.m., 6 p.m., and 12 a.m. If not during these times, the break must be near the middle of the shift.
  • Rest periods
    • The law doesn’t require employers to offer their workers rest periods or coffee breaks. However, if the employer chooses to provide them, employers must pay employees for rest periods shorter than 30 minutes.
  • Wisconsin gun laws
    • An employer may prohibit an employee from carrying a concealed weapon inside their workplace. However, they can’t restrict an employee from carrying a concealed weapon in their privately owned vehicles, regardless of whether the car is parked on company property or used for company purposes.
  • Seats for workers
    • Manufacturing, mechanical, and commercial businesses must provide seats for their employees when they’re not actively performing work duties.
  • Cessation of Health Care Benefits Law
    • Wisconsin employers with 50 or more employees must provide 60 days' notice to any affected employees, retirees, or their dependents when eliminating their health benefits.
    • The law doesn’t apply to individuals who have involuntarily or voluntarily left the company or changed their existing health plan.
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) compliance
    • OSHA is a federal government agency that outlines safety and health standards for all employees in the workplace. Employers can’t take disciplinary action against employees who report them for OSHA violations.
    • The Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services administers the state's federal OSHA compliance regulations.
  • Access to personnel files
    • Employees have the right to view and copy their personnel records that their employer maintains. Employers must provide the documents within seven working days.
  • Wisconsin smoking laws
    • Employees are entitled to a smoke-free environment in their workplace, including break rooms, cafeterias, elevators, employee lounges, restrooms, conference rooms, meeting rooms, and private offices.
    • Employers must hang non-smoking signs and no-smoking posters throughout the workplace.
  • Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA)
    • Eligible employees have the right to COBRA health coverage up to 18 months after employment ends. This extended coverage also applies to any dependents on the plan, such as the employee’s spouse or children younger than 26.
    • Wisconsin’s mini-COBRA applies to employers with fewer than 20 employees. These employers must also allow employees to continue their coverage for up to 18 months.

Required and non-required employee benefits in Wisconsin

All businesses operating in the U.S. or employing American workers must follow federal regulations regarding certain employee benefits. However, some benefits the law requires in one state may be optional in others.

In the chart below, let’s look at Wisconsin's required and non-required employee benefits.

Benefit type

What’s required 

What’s not required

Workplace accommodations

Employers with at least 15  employees must provide reasonable accommodations to employees and applicants with disabilities. This applies unless an accommodation creates an undue hardship.


Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Under FMLA, all employees of organizations with 50 or more employees may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for themselves or family members when in eligible circumstances. 

Employees may take four extra weeks for pregnancy or childbirth complications. 


Wisconsin’s Family and Medical Leave Act (WFMLA)

The WFMLA provides six weeks of unpaid leave for an employee's serious health condition, a parent, child, or spouse’s serious health issue, or for childbirth or adoption. 

Employers with 50 or more permanent employees during at least six of the last 12 calendar months are subject to the Act. 

Covered employees must have been with the company for the previous 52 weeks and worked at least 1,000 hours. 


Sick leave


Wisconsin law doesn’t require employers to grant sick leave to their workers, whether with pay or without. However, they must still follow the FMLA and the WFMLA guidelines.

Wisconsin military leave 

All members of the uniformed services can take unpaid military leave under the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) law.

In Wisconsin, employers must reinstate employees called to active duty for 90 days or more after discharge to their previous position with the same seniority, benefits, and compensation if they meet certain conditions.


Witness leave

Employers must provide leave to employees subpoenaed to appear in a criminal or juvenile court.

If the employee was the victim of the crime or the incident involved them as an employee, the employer must offer paid witness leave.

Employers that don’t comply may be subject to a $200 fine and ordered to provide the employee with back pay.  


Bone Marrow and Organ Donation

The Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Leave Act gives employees up to six weeks' leave in a 12-month period for bone marrow or organ donation. Leave is only for the donation procedure and necessary recovery time.

Employers with 50 or more permanent employees during at least six of the last 12 calendar months are subject to the Act. 

Employees must have been with the company for the previous 52 weeks and worked at least 1,000 hours to receive organ donor leave. 


Voting leave

Employers must provide three hours of voting leave if an employee requests time off before the voting day. The time can be paid or unpaid. 

However, the employer can determine when employees can leave their shifts and request advanced notice.


Jury duty leave

Employers must give employees unpaid time off for jury duty service. They also can’t take adverse action against employees who receive a jury summons, serve as a juror, or attend court for prospective jury service.

Employers that don’t comply may be subject to a $200 fine and ordered to provide the employee with back pay.  


Civil Air Patrol and qualified volunteers leave

Employers with 11 or more employees must allow Civil Air Patrol members and other volunteer emergency workers who aid qualified emergency relief groups time off to help during a disaster. 


Workers' compensation insurance

Workers' compensation provides benefits to employees who are injured on the job or are otherwise unable to work due to a workplace accident or incident. 

All Wisconsin employers with three or more employees must have coverage. In most cases, employees must submit a claim within 30 days of an incident to receive benefits. 


Unemployment benefits

Wisconsin’s Office of Unemployment Benefits temporarily supports employees who are out of work or working reduced hours under certain circumstances. 

To qualify for unemployment, employees must:

  • Be actively looking for work 
  • Be able and available for work. 
  • Legally authorized to work in the United States.


Bereavement leave


The state doesn’t require employers to provide bereavement leave. But, individual businesses can offer it on their own.

Holiday leave


No state laws require employers to provide holiday leave. But, individual businesses can offer it as part of their compensation package if they choose.

Vacation time


Employers don’t have to provide vacation time to their workers. However, they can add it to their benefits package separately.

Health insurance in Wisconsin

The state and federal government don’t require Wisconsin employers to offer their workers health insurance if they have fewer than 50 employees. However, federal law requires business owners with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) to provide affordable health insurance with minimum essential coverage (MEC) to satisfy the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) employer mandate.

However, even though you may have fewer than 50 FTEs, you should still offer health benefits. Adding a comprehensive health benefit to your benefits package is a great way to attract and retain talented workers.

Traditional group health insurance is a popular option for many U.S. employers. But, rising healthcare costs can make it challenging for small to mid-sized businesses on a budget to afford the costly premiums and annual rate hikes.

Small group health insurance premiums in some Wisconsin counties can get as high as $686 per month. On the other hand, the average monthly premium for a 50-year-old on a bronze individual health plan can be as low as $583. This makes covering the cost of individual health plans more reasonable for many small employers in Wisconsin.

Business owners looking to provide an affordable health benefit can take advantage of Wisconsin’s lower individual plan prices by implementing a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) or a health stipend.

Health reimbursement arrangement (HRA)

An HRA is an IRS-approved, formal health benefit funded solely by the employer. It allows you to reimburse your eligible employees, tax-free, for their individual health plan premiums and qualifying medical expenses.

Employees can use their HRA to choose and purchase the individual health insurance plan that meets their healthcare needs and budget. Employers save money by not buying a group health plan, setting a fixed monthly allowance, and only reimbursing their employees when they incur an eligible medical expense.

Some HRAs, such as the individual coverage HRA (ICHRA), can satisfy the ACA’s regulations for applicable large employers (ALEs), making an HRA a health benefit that can work for businesses of all sizes.

Learn more about each HRA


For employers with 1-49 employees


A simple, controlled-cost alternative to group health insurance.




For employers of all sizes


A flexible health benefit that can be used alone or alongside group health insurance.




For employers offering group health insurance


A group health supplement to help employees with out-of-pocket expenses.



Health and wellness stipends

With a health stipend, you can give your employees a fixed amount of money to help them pay for their medical expenses related to health conditions and insurance policy premiums. An employee health stipend isn't a formal group health plan, so you can customize your stipend and choose which costs are eligible for reimbursement.

You can offer as much stipend allowance as your benefits budget allows, and employees can purchase the medical items that work for them and their families. This increased flexibility makes stipends a more personalized option for organizations than group health insurance.

While stipends are taxable for employees, small businesses looking for a benefit that covers more than medical expenses—like mental health counseling, gym memberships, and fitness apps—can do so with a wellness stipend. Offering a health and wellness stipend together gives your employees comprehensive coverage for their overall well-being.

Wage laws in Wisconsin

Wages in Wisconsin are subject to various state laws. We've compiled the most essential requirements to know below.

Minimum wage

The minimum wage in Wisconsin is $7.25 an hour, which is also the federal minimum wage. Should the federal minimum wage rate rise in the future, Wisconsin will raise its minimum wage to match it.

All private and public employers in Wisconsin—regardless of size, industry, or city— must pay employees at least the minimum wage for all hours worked.

Employers may pay a subminimum wage to agricultural workers, camp counselors, golf caddies, and other employee categories. Employers must apply for a special license with the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) before paying a subminimum wage to individuals with disabilities.

Tipped wages

Employers must pay tipped employees a minimum wage of $2.33 per hour. If the employee’s tips don’t equal the federal minimum hourly wage, the employer must pay the difference to equal $7.25 per hour.

If an employee makes more than the regular minimum wage rate in tips, the employer doesn’t need to pay anything extra.

Overtime pay

Wisconsin’s overtime requirements are similar to the federal overtime standards. Employers must pay employees overtime of 1.5 times their regular pay for any hours they work more than 40 in a standard workweek.

Some occupations, such as executives, administrators, outside salespeople, and other professional employees, are exempt from overtime pay as long as they make at least $700 per month. Also exempt are agricultural workers, workers performing domestic services, and federal government agency employees.

Minors may receive overtime pay, but it depends on their age, the type of work, and if school is in session.

Prevailing wages

Wisconsin officials appealed the state’s prevailing wage laws in 2017. This means that Wisconsin agencies can no longer create or require a wage scale for a public works employment contract. Under the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts, the U.S. Department of Labor sets prevailing wage rates for state and federal projects.

Pay frequency and methods

Employers must pay all workers at least monthly, no longer than 31 days between pay periods. However, employers may pay loggers, farm laborers, and technicians quarterly. Unclassified University of Wisconsin employees are also exempt and can receive their wages according to the University’s internal payroll system.

Employers can choose a more frequent pay schedule, like a biweekly period, instead of the monthly requirement.

Under Wisconsin law, acceptable methods of payment include:

  • Cash
  • Payable checks
  • Direct deposit or wire transfer
    • Employers can require their employees to accept their wages by direct deposit. But, there must be no cost to the employee to participate in a mandatory direct deposit.

Pay statements and deductions

Wisconsin law requires employers to provide each employee with pay statements each pay period indicating their total hours, regular rate, and the amount and reason for any deductions. If an employee requests a pay deduction of a personal nature, the employer can label it as "miscellaneous" on the pay statements to ensure privacy.

The following are allowable pay deductions under Wisconsin law:

  • Deductions required by local, state, or federal law
    • This could include deductions for taxes, Social Security, FICA, and Medicare
  • Court-ordered deductions, like creditor garnishments and child support
  • Certain employee benefits, like premiums for health insurance, annuity, or life insurance

Employers may only make pay deductions for loss, theft, damage, or faulty handiwork if one of the following situations applies:

  • The employee authorized the deduction in writing after the issue occurred and before the employer made the deduction
  • A representative of the employee determined the employee was at fault and approved the deduction
  • A judge found the employee guilty and liable for the loss, theft, damage, or faulty handiwork in a court of law.

Any employer who makes a non-authorized deduction from wages may be liable to pay the employee back for twice the deduction amount.

Pay claims

If the employee doesn’t receive their earned unpaid wages by six days after their regular pay date, they may file a claim with the DWD. Once the employee files a claim, the DWD will work with the employer to resolve it. There is a two-year statute of limitations for employees to collect wage claims.

Union members must go through the channels outlined in their contract before filing a wage claim with the DWD.


Employers must keep accurate records with the following information for each employee on file for three years:

  • The employee’s name and address
  • Date of birth
  • Dates of hire and termination
  • Time the employee’s shift began and ended each day
  • Hours worked each workday and workweek
  • Regular rate of pay
  • Total wages per pay period
  • Any pay deductions, including the reason for the deduction
  • Output of the employee (if they received wages based on anything other than hours worked)
  • The time each meal break period began and ended (if the lunch break was required or deducted from work time)

Final pay

When an employee separates from employment—regardless of how they left the company— they must receive their final paycheck no later than the employer's next regularly scheduled pay date. Sales agents who work on a commission basis are exempt.

If an employer terminates a worker due to a merger or liquidation, they must pay the final paycheck using the regular wage payment method within 24 hours of separation.

The law doesn’t require Wisconsin employers to pay out vacation, holiday, or sick pay. However, if the employer has an established policy at their company that doesn’t include a forfeit of benefits provision, they must pay the employee for any accrued, unused vacation, holiday, or sick pay.


Frequently asked questions

What is the minimum wage in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin doesn’t have state-specific or local minimum wage laws. Therefore, they use the current federal minimum wage rate of $7.25 per hour.

Employers must pay tipped employees a minimum wage of $2.33 per hour. If the employee’s tips don’t equal the state’s minimum hourly rate, the employer must pay the difference to equal $7.25 per hour.

What are employee rights in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin laws protect employees from discrimination and employer retaliation for being a protected class. Employers must also comply with federal regulations regarding accommodations for nursing mothers, provide meal breaks to minor employees, have a smoke-free workplace, provide seats for manufacturing, mechanical, and commercial business workers, and allow employees to access their personnel files.

Does Wisconsin require employers to offer paid sick leave?

Wisconsin law doesn’t require employers to offer their employees paid sick leave. However, they must still follow the guidelines in the Family and Medical Leave Act and Wisconsin’s Family and Medical Leave Act.

Do I have to offer health insurance in Wisconsin?

Whether or not you must offer health insurance depends on the number of employees you have. The federal government requires organizations with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) to provide health insurance that meets minimum essential coverage (MEC).

Learn more about the requirements for applicable large employers.

This guide is intended for educational purposes only, meaning you shouldn’t take it as tax or legal advice. If you’re unsure about employment laws in Wisconsin, you don’t have to figure it out alone. Contact a legal advisor or other professional for assistance and specific regulations for your organization.


Looking to enhance your benefits package?

Speak with a PeopleKeep personalized benefits advisor who can help you answer questions and help you select the right benefits package for your team.