Employment Bills Introduced in Wisconsin Legislature

This session, Wisconsin lawmakers have introduced several bills that would create new legal causes of action against employers and could be costly to Wisconsin businesses if enacted. Read below for descriptions and the status of each of the bills.


SB 40/AB 40 Wage Claims

Sen. Bob Wirch (D-Somers) and Rep. Tod Ohnstad (D-Kenosha) have introduced legislation changing employee unpaid wage claim procedures. The bill allows employees to file wage claims with the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) or in circuit court not only on their own behalf, but also on behalf of any similarly situated workers. Additionally, the bill increases the statute of limitations for wage claims from two to four years.

The bill would significantly increase the punitive costs for employers who are found to owe employees wages. The bill would double the amount employers could be liable to pay in excess of the unpaid wages, up to 200 percent, plus attorney fees. DWD or a circuit court may also require the employer to pay 2 percent interest per month on the amount of wages due. DWD or a circuit court can also order the employer to pay a surcharge up to $1,000 that would go not to the employee but to DWD.

Also under the bill, employers with outstanding wage claims would not be eligible to renew their licenses.

Finally, the bill would require employers to provide a disclosure statement of terms of employment to all employees. If an employer fails to provide or comply with the written terms of employment, the employer would owe all damages, plus $50 per day, and attorney fees.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Labor & Regulatory Reform and the Assembly Committee on Labor & Integrated Employment. No public hearings have been held.


AB 116 – Abusive Work Environments

Rep. Sondy Pope (D-Mt. Horeb) has introduced legislation that would create a new cause of action outside of worker’s compensation for abusive work environments.

The bill provides an exception to the exclusive remedy of worker’s compensation when employees allege they have been subjected to an abusive work environment. Employees alleging injury from an abusive work environment may file an action in circuit court. Circuit courts may award prevailing employees relief from the employer including medical expenses, back pay, front pay, compensation for pain and suffering, compensation for emotional distress, punitive damages, and attorney fees.

Under the bill, “abusive conduct” means “conduct, including acts or omissions, by an employer or employee, that a reasonable person would find to be abusive based on the severity, nature, and frequency of the conduct.” “Abusive work environment” means “a work environment in which an employer or one or more of its employees, acting with intent to cause pain or distress to an employee, subjects that employee to abusive conduct that causes physical harm or psychological harm to that employee.”

The bill has been referred to the Assembly Committee on Labor & Integrated Employment. No public hearing has been held.


AB 265 – Employee Rights

Rep. Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie) has introduced legislation giving employees certain rights and causes of action against their employers. The bill includes:

  • Giving employees the right to request and receive work schedule changes. An employer must have a “bona fide reason” to deny requested schedule changes.
  • Requiring employers to notify service industry employees of schedule changes two weeks in advance.
  • If an employer cuts an employee’s shift after they report to work, requiring the employer to still pay some or all of the wages the employee would have earned.
  • Requiring employers to compensate employees one hour’s pay for on-call shifts.
  • Requiring employers to compensate employees one hour’s pay for working a split shift.

Employee complaints about violations of any of these requirements would be handled by DWD as employment discrimination claims. Employees could also bring actions in circuit court, regardless of whether they have filed an action with DWD. Employers would be liable for compensatory damages, attorney fees, liquidated damages up to 100 percent of compensatory damages, and/or forfeitures up to $1,000 per violation.

The bill has been referred to the Assembly Committee on Labor & Integrated Employment. No public hearing has been held.


SB 308/AB 319 – Gender-related Discrimination

Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) and Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit) have introduced legislation that would add gender identity or gender expression as a prohibited basis for employment discrimination under Wisconsin’s Fair Employment Law (Wis. Stat. Ch. 111 Subchapter II). Penalties for employment discrimination under current law include, back pay, reinstatement and/or compensation. Under current law, employees may file complaints with DWD, which are subject to judicial review. (LRB 286, discussed below seeks to change this employment discrimination complaint process and allow initial complaints in circuit court.)

The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Technology & Consumer Protection and the Assembly Committee on State Affairs. No public hearings have been held.


LRB 286 – Employment Discrimination

Last week, Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) circulated a bill that would allow employees alleging employment discrimination to bring circuit court actions outside of the DWD administrative complaint process. As damages, a court may, like DWD, order back pay, reinstatement, and/or compensation. Additionally under the bill, defendants are required to pay punitive damages – including future economic losses for pain and suffering, emotional distress, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and other noneconomic damages – up to $300,000 depending on the size of the employer.

The bill is currently circulating for cosponsorship.


LRB 2692 – Employee Compensation

Sen. Hansen has also circulated a bill that prohibits employers from asking prospective employees about their prior compensation. Employers would also generally be prohibited from using information about prior compensation in the hiring decision making process. Employees would be able to file complaints about violations to DWD or in circuit court, with penalties identical to those in LRB 286.

The bill is currently circulating for cosponsorship.


Outside of the Legislature, Gov. Tony Evers has also created a Joint Enforcement Task Force on Worker Misclassification. Evers announced members of the task force on July 26.