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Total Articles: 28

PODCAST: Wisconsin FMLA vs. Federal FMLA in a Nutshell

In this episode, Keith Kopplin and Sarah Platt compare Wisconsin’s Family and Medical Leave Act with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and discuss the key differences and top things employers should know.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Ends Required Deference to State Administrative Agencies' Interpretations, Allowing Employers to Push for Broader Review of Agency Decisions

The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently reversed its nearly half-century practice of deferring to state administrative agencies’ interpretations of the laws the agencies are responsible for enforcing. Based on the decision in Tetra Tech EC, Inc. v. DOR,1 Wisconsin courts need now only consider the agency interpretations’ persuasive value, but give them no deference. This shift likely will permit affected parties to more substantively challenge agencies’ interpretations of law in the state court system.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules Employees Who Violate Attendance Policies May Not Be Entitled to Unemployment Benefits

Wisconsin employers that have found themselves frustrated by the fact that they can end an employment relationship for legitimate, business-related reasons yet the employee can still collect unemployment benefits were granted some relief by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in one of its final decisions of the 2017–2018 term. In Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development v. Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission, No. 2016AP1365 (June 26, 2018) (also known as Beres), the court examined a 2013 change to the Wisconsin statute controlling an individual’s disqualification from unemployment benefits and whether an employee may be denied such benefits based on an employer’s attendance policy that is stricter than the statutory standard. The court concluded that the statutory number of absences by an employee that will result in disqualification from unemployment benefits may be overridden by an employer’s written policy that implements a stricter standard.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Focuses on Employer’s Actual Knowledge in Disability Discrimination Ruling

In a recent opinion, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin rejected the “inference method” of causation that the Labor and Industry Review Commission has used for more than two decades to find liability in cases in which an employer takes adverse action against an employee for conduct that the employee claims was caused by a disability. The court concluded that the inference method of causation is inconsistent with the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (WFEA) because it relieves the employee of the burden of proving discriminatory intent. Wisconsin Bell, Inc. v. Labor and Industry Review Commission, No. 2016AP355 (June 26, 2018).

Wisconsin Supreme Court Holds That State Disability Discrimination Law Requires Proof of Intent to Establish Liability

The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently overturned a longstanding line of cases that allowed disabled employees to prevail in discrimination cases without proving the employer intended to discriminate or was even aware that the employee was disabled. On June 26, 2018, the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in Wisconsin Bell, Inc. v. Labor and Industry Review Commission and Charles Carlson (Carlson).1 The case involves the Labor and Industry Review Commission’s (“LIRC”) expansive definition of what it means to discriminate against employees “because of” a disability under the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (“WFEA”).

Commission Overrules Xu v. Epic Systems, Finds Valid Arbitration Agreement or Waiver Bars Prosecution of WFEA Claims Before ERD

In Ionetz v. Menard, Inc., the Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission overruled its previous and highly controversial decision Xu v. Epic Systems, Inc..

Wisconsin Law Prohibits Local Regulation of Several Employment Issues, Does Not Preempt Discrimination Ordinances

On April 16, 2018, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed an amended version of 2017 Assembly Bill 748, thereby declaring a number of employment issues to be matters of statewide concern and therefore beyond the scope of municipal regulation. Although the bill originally included a provision that would have prohibited local regulation of employment discrimination, that provision was removed by an amendment. As such, municipalities remain free to enact and enforce equal employment opportunity ordinances at the local level like the Madison Equal Opportunities Ordinance and the De Pere Non-Discrimination in Housing, Public Accommodation and Employment Ordinance, both of which remain in effect.

Still "Open for Business" – New Wisconsin Legislation to Preempt Most Local Employment Ordinances

In recent years, cities, counties, and other local government bodies across the country have enacted ordinances increasing the minimum wage, granting paid and unpaid sick leave, placing restrictions on how employees are scheduled, and requiring employers to enter into “labor peace agreements” with unions. As this activity has intensified, employers with operations in multiple jurisdictions within a state or across multiple states have been confronted with the onerous task of complying with a patchwork of conflicting employment rules. Wisconsin is about to join the list of over a dozen states that have taken action to preempt local governments from passing such ordinances.

Wisconsin School and Municipal Employee Unions Must Petition for Election by September 15 to Avoid Decertification

Wisconsin Statutes Section 111.70(4)(d)(3) provides that, “Annually, the [Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission] shall conduct an election to certify the representative of the collective bargaining unit that contains a general municipal employee.” (The law does not cover public safety or transit employees.) A union must receive at least 51 percent of the vote in the annual certification election to remain or become the representative.

Wisconsin Commission Finds Employers Cannot Consider Expunged Convictions—Even if Substantially Related to the Job

The Wisconsin Fair Employment Act prohibits employers from taking adverse employment action against an applicant or employee because of the individual’s conviction record, unless the conviction is “substantially related” to the position sought or held. Wisconsin law permits certain offenders who commit crimes before they reach the age of 25 to have their convictions expunged. The Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission recently decided that employers cannot rely on expunged convictions when arguing that an individual’s conviction record is substantially related to a job.

Wisconsin Legislature Poised to Prohibit Local Employment Ordinances and Exempt Certain Employers From WFMLA

While all eyes have rightfully been focused on Washington, D.C., during the recent and ongoing drama surrounding the government shutdown, in Madison, the Wisconsin Legislature is poised to take action on two measures that may have a significant impact on Wisconsin employers. In the first bill, the Wisconsin Legislature seeks to prohibit local governments from enacting or enforcing certain employment regulations at the local level. If passed, this bill could summarily put an end to the Madison Equal Opportunity Ordinance. In the second bill, the Wisconsin Legislature would exempt from the Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave Act (WFMLA) any employer that is also covered by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). These significant proposals are in keeping with other employer initiatives enacted during Governor Walker’s tenure.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Applies Non-Compete Law To Invalidate Anti-Poaching Covenant

On January 19, 2018, a divided Wisconsin Supreme Court held that an employee non-solicitation covenant was overly broad and unenforceable under state law. In the decision, entitled The Manitowoc Company, Inc. v. Lanning, Case No. 2015AP1530 (Wisc. Jan. 19, 2018), the Court confirmed Wisconsin Statute §103.465, which governs covenants not to compete, extends to agreements not to solicit employees. Because the employee non-solicitation covenant did not meet the statutory criteria for valid non-competes, the Court held it unenforceable in its entirety, “even as to any part of the covenant that would be a reasonable restraint.”

Wisconsin Employers Now Subject to Tort Lawsuits for Temporary Workers’ Workplace Injuries

On January 9, 2018, District III of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals held that temporary workers who are injured while working for their host employers have the right to elect either to claim workers’ compensation benefits or to sue their host employers in tort. The decision turns on its head the Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation Act’s exclusive remedy provision, exposes thousands of employers in Wisconsin to tort liability that they previously did not have or anticipate having, and threatens general liability insurance carriers with risks they never anticipated accepting or priced their premiums to take into account. In Re the Estate of Carolos Esterley Cerrato Rivera v. West Bend Mutual Insurance Company, No. 2017AP142.

Wisconsin Employee May Prosecute WFEA Claims Against Employer Despite Valid Waiver and Release of Claims

The Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission recently issued a highly controversial decision, Xu v. Epic Systems, Inc., holding that (1) an employee cannot waive the right to file a discrimination complaint against her or his employer under the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (WFEA), and (2) an employee may prosecute WFEA claims on the merits against her or his former employer—and potentially receive a judgment against the former employer before the Wisconsin Equal Rights Division (ERD)—even if he or she waived and released any and all such claims against his or her employer in a valid severance agreement.

De Pere Joins Wisconsin Municipalities With Nondiscrimination Ordinances

On November 21, 2017, the De Pere city council added to Wisconsin’s list of municipalities with local nondiscrimination ordinances. For employers, the De Pere ordinance creates a unique protected class in Wisconsin: victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. De Pere, Wisconsin, employers will need to comply with the new ordinance when it takes effect on March 1, 2018.

Wisconsin Court Overturns $2.2 Million Jury Verdict in Favor of Former Doctor, Finding His Employment-at-Will Agreement Was Not Superseded by a Subsequent Policy

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals recently reaffirmed long-standing precedent holding that employment-at-will agreements may not be modified by a policy or procedure unless it contains an express provision demonstrating that the parties intended to be bound by something other than the established at-will relationship.

Work Permits in Wisconsin: New Requirements and Modernized Statutory Language

Recently signed by Governor Walker, 2017 Wisconsin Act 11 went into effect on June 23, 2017. The act has two objectives. First, it seeks to modernize the language used in the Wisconsin Statutes to refer to labor performed by minors. More specifically, references to “child labor” have been replaced with the less loaded phrase “employment of minors.” The second, more substantive change made by the act is the repeal of the requirement that 16- and 17-year-olds obtain a state-issued permit before they can begin most work activities. Previously, such minors were required to show evidence of parental permission to work, and their employers were required to reimburse them for a $10 licensing fee payable to the state.

Wisconsin Court Holds Discharging Employee Because of Misconduct Caused by Disability Can Be Discrimination

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals has affirmed a decision holding that a call center employee with bipolar disorder proved that he was discharged “because of” his disability by establishing he was discharged for misconduct—i.e., avoiding calls—that was caused by his disability. In light of this case, Wisconsin employers dealing with employee misconduct that could be caused by a known disability may want to proceed with caution because, in some cases, the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act may require them to excuse the misconduct as a reasonable accommodation. Wisconsin Bell, Inc. v. Labor and Industry Review Commission, No. 2016AP355 (March 28, 2017).

Wisconsin Legislature Proposes Employer-Friendly Changes to State Employment Laws Related to Offers of Settlement and Remedies

A bill recently proposed in Wisconsin could seriously change litigation strategy and settlement considerations for many employment claims filed with state agencies. Assembly Bill 64 would amend the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (“WFEA”), the Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave Act (“WFMLA”), and the relatively new Organ and Bone Marrow Donation Law (“OBMDL”) by empowering both the complainant and an employer to make a statutory offer of settlement. Failing to accept such a settlement offer could result in significant financial consequences.

Poachers Beware: Wisconsin Court Rules That Restrictions on Employee Solicitation Are Subject to Law Governing Noncompetes

In a case of first impression, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals held that anti-poaching provisions in post-employment restrictive covenants are subject to the statutory regulations that govern noncompete agreements in Wisconsin.

Be a Donor ... and Qualify for Unpaid Leave: New Wisconsin Law Goes Into Effect Soon

Effective July 1, 2016, Wisconsin law will require covered employers to provide eligible employees with up to 6 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period to undergo and recover from bone marrow or organ donation procedures. Previously, only employees of the Wisconsin state government were entitled to leave for such donations.

How Wisconsin’s Reversal of Decades-Old Ban on Switchblades and Knives Applies to Employers

A new Wisconsin law has repealed the state’s prohibition (which has existed for more than 50 years) on manufacturing, selling, transporting, purchasing, or possessing a switchblade and which subjected violators to $10,000 in fines and nine months in jail.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Weighs in on the Compensability of Pre- and Post-Shift Work

The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently helped clarify the circumstances under which pre- and post-shift donning and doffing constitutes compensable work under Wisconsin’s minimum wage and overtime laws.1 The decision, which involved production workers at a plant owned by Hormel Foods Corporation (“Hormel” or "the company"), also appears to narrow the applicability of the federal de minimis rule under state law.

Wisconsin Eases, But Does Not Eliminate, the One Day of Rest in Seven Law

Effective July 14, 2015, Wisconsin has made it easier for an employer to comply with Wisconsin Statute 103.85, Wisconsin’s “one day of rest in seven” requirement. Under this statute, most factory and mercantile employers must provide their employees with at least 24 consecutive hours of rest for every 7 consecutive days worked. These restrictions do not apply to certain categories of workers, including janitors; security personnel; those employed in the manufacture of butter, cheese or other dairy products, or in the distribution of milk or cream; those who work in canneries or freezers; individuals who are employed in bakeries, flour and feed mills, hotels or restaurants; employees whose duties include no work on Sunday other than caring for live animals or maintaining fires; and workers whose labor is required by an emergency situation that could not reasonably have been anticipated.

Wisconsin is Really Open for Business: Governor Signs New Right-to-Work Law

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s motto is that Wisconsin is “open for business,” and he means it. On March 9, 2015, Governor Walker signed into law Senate Bill 44, which made Wisconsin the 25th right-to-work state in the country. With the surrounding Great Lakes states of Michigan and Indiana already enacting right to work laws (and Iowa already being a right-to-work state), the momentum in Wisconsin was to follow so it would not be at a competitive disadvantage in retaining and attracting new businesses and job growth.

Independent Contractor . . . or Not? DOL and Wisconsin DWD Team Up to Reduce Employee Misclassification

On January 20, 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced that Wisconsin had become the latest state to join the “Misclassification Initiative,” which is designed to protect the rights of employees “by preventing their misclassification as independent contractors or other nonemployee statuses.” Wisconsin is the 19th state to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the DOL for the purpose of sharing information and coordinating enforcement regarding employee classification. The MOU between the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division and Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development has an initial term of three years.

Senate Republicans Introduce National Right-to-Work Act

Last week, Senate Republicans introduced a bill called the National Right-to-Work Act, which would amend the National Labor Relations Act and the Railway Labor Act to prohibit union security agreements. Union security agreements are clauses in labor contracts that make union membership or payment of union dues a mandatory condition of employment. Federal law permits states to pass right to work laws, and 22 states currently have them on the books—mostly in the South or Western plains states. With Democratic control of the Senate and the White House, the recently introduced National Right-to-Work Act has little chance of becoming law.

Wisconsin Law Prohibiting Captive Audience Speeches Struck Down as Preempted by Federal Labor Law.

When confronted by a union organizing drive, the National Labor Relations Act has long-been interpreted to permit employers to hold what is known as a “captive audience speech.” During captive audience speeches—which must occur in the workplace and during work times—managers express their views to employees regarding the disadvantages of unionization. Employers usually make attendance at these meetings mandatory and discipline employees who fail to attend. Employers, however, cannot hold captive audience speeches within 24 hours of a union election.
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