Wage Payment and Collection Law

Employees have the right to file a wage claim if there is a dispute with the employer about the amount of wages owed, or if the employer fails to pay wages earned on the regularly scheduled payday. This page provides information about common wage and hour issues.

Employees can file a Labor Standards Complaint Form with the Division within 2 years of the date the wages were earned, or sue the employer in circuit court.

Summary of Labor Standards Laws and the Complaint Process

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Chapter 109, Wis. Stats., requires most Wisconsin employers to pay workers all wages earned at least monthly, with no longer than 31 days between pay periods. The only employers exempted from this requirement are:

  • employees engaged in logging (must be paid at least quarterly)
  • those engaged in farm labor (must be paid at least quarterly)
  • unclassified employees of the UW system (left to the system)
  • Part-time firefighters and part-time emergency medical
  • technicians (must be paid at regular intervals, at least annually).

Employers may establish more frequent pay periods (e.g., weekly, biweekly or semimonthly).

Employees who are separated from their job must be paid in accordance with the employer’s regular pay schedule.

An employer has the right to require its employees to participate in a direct deposit program. There cannot be any cost to the employee to participate in a mandatory program. Even if wages are deposited directly, the employee must still receive a check stub showing the rate of pay, hours worked, and the amount of and reason for each deduction.

Employees have the right to file a wage claim with the department if there is a dispute with the employer about the amount of wages owed. If the employer refuses to pay wages earned on the regularly established payday, the employee should request payment. If the employee does not receive payment after 6 days, the employee may file a claim with the department. Once a claim is filed, the department will seek to resolve the matter with the employer.

The department may take action on the following types of wage claims:

  • Salaries
  • Severance pay
  • Commissions
  • Expenses
  • Holiday pay
  • Bonuses
  • Vacation pay
  • Illegal deductions from wages
  • Supplemental unemployment compensation benefits when required under a binding collective bargaining agreement.
  • Other similar advantages agreed upon between the employer and the employee.
  • Other similar advantages provided by the employer to his employees as an established policy.

The department may not have authority to take legal action on some claims, including:

  • Unpaid bills owed to the employee
  • Claims made by independent contractors
  • Claims already filed in court
  • Out-of-state employers in some cases

Union members who wish to file wage claims will be advised by the department to file their claims with their local union representatives.

Persons filing a claim for wages must do so on a form furnished by the department’s Equal Rights Division. This form may be obtained in person at the Madison or Milwaukee offices, by mail, or by downloading a claim form.

Claim forms also are available at most Job Center offices as a courtesy, but those offices do not process the claims.

There is a 2-year statute of limitations on the collection of wage claims. Wages must be claimed within 2 years of the date payable.

Employers are required to state clearly on each employee’s paycheck, pay envelope, or other accompanying paper the number of hours worked, the rate of pay, and the amount of and reason for each deduction from their wages. A reasonable coding system may be used.

The only exception occurs where the employee has requested a deduction for personal reasons. Those deductions may be labeled as “miscellaneous”.

The department also allows employers to use electronic pay stubs, provided that the employee has access to a printer and is not charged to print the stub each pay period.

Employers may only make deductions from the wages of an employee for loss, theft, damage, or faulty workmanship under one of the following conditions:

  • The deduction is authorized, in writing, by the employee after the problem occurs and before the deduction is made;
  • a representative of the employee has determined that the employee was at fault and that the deduction may be made; or
  • the employee has been found guilty or held liable in a court of law.

An employer who makes a deduction not authorized in one of these ways may be held liable for twice the amount of the deduction. Blanket authorizations are not valid. The employee’s written permission must be obtained after each occurrence of a problem.

Once a wage claim has been filed, it is necessary to gather the facts from both parties. This process is done by gathering documentary evidence and written responses from the parties. The Labor Standards Investigation Section has approximately 800-1000 claims active at any one time and it is not possible to call people once the case has been filed. Verbal communication is discouraged, as it is necessary to receive all information in writing for the file to be complete if court action becomes necessary. Even after a telephone call, you will be asked to write out and send whatever information you have stated on the telephone. It will save all parties time if you mail written questions and information to the office.

Once the employee submits a complaint form to the Equal Rights Division:

  • An investigator reviews the form to ensure the complaint is properly filed with the agency. If not or if more information is needed, the complainant will receive a letter dismissing the complaint or requesting more information. Failure to provide the requested information could lead to dismissal of the complaint.
  • Once the complaint is properly filed, the investigator sends a notice and complete copy of the complaint to the business/employer informing it what has been claimed and giving it an opportunity to respond to the claim, by either:
    • Sending a check for the claimed wages if the employer agrees with the claim; or
    • Providing documentation and records that disprove the claim.
  • If a check is received, the investigator sends the claimant the check and the case is closed with no penalties assessed.
  • If the employer disputes the claim, the investigator provides a copy of the materials to the claimant and allows an opportunity to respond.
  • After gathering all materials and ensuring proper opportunity for comment, the investigator makes a written determination of the wages owed, if any.
  • If wages are owed and the employer refuses to pay, the claim may be forwarded to the local district attorney to request collection. A court may assess increased wages of up to 100% of the wages due per Section 109.11, Stats. The court may also award attorneys’ fees and costs.

Note: the Equal Rights Division has no control over the action of the district attorneys or whether they will accept a case. The claimant is responsible for contacting the district attorney after the case has been forwarded to indicate if he/she wishes to pursue the matter in court and pay any necessary filing fees.

An employer is prohibited from retaliating against any employee who:

  • files a complaint
  • attempts to enforce a right permitted by statute
  • testifies in a case, or
  • assists in a case

under the state’s labor standards laws including employment of minors, minimum wage, hours of work and overtime, wage payment and collection, and prevailing wage rate laws.

This law’s protections also apply if an employer takes an adverse employment action against an employee because that employer believes the employee has exercised any of the above rights.

Persons who need further information concerning protections under the state’s anti-retaliation provisions should contact the Equal Rights Division.

DWD is an equal opportunity employer and service provider. If you have a disability and need to access this information in an alternate format or need it translated to another language, please contact us in Madison at (608) 264-8752 or in Milwaukee at (414) 227-4081.

To file a wage claim, or to obtain more information about any of these provisions, contact the department’s Equal Rights Division at either of our office locations or send an email to the Equal Rights Division.

Frequently Asked Questions

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You must receive at least the minimum wage per hour for all hours your employer requires you to work, including preparation time, on-the-job training, and required meetings. If your employer is not paying you at least the minimum wage, you can file a Labor Standards Complaint.

Unless an exemption applies, overtime is to be paid at one and one-half times the regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours in a seven-day workweek. No employer or employee may enter into an agreement that would violate the overtime law requiring an employee to be paid overtime. If your employer is not correctly paying your overtime, you can file a Labor Standards Complaint.

If you leave employment for any reason, you must be paid in accordance with the employer's regular pay schedule.

If you are unable to resolve the payment issue with your employer, you can file a Labor Standards Complaint after 6 days have elapsed.

Generally, notice is not required by either party. However, notice of quitting may affect payout of fringe benefits like vacation or PTO.

You are not entitled to any wages for the notice period because you did not perform any work during that period. If otherwise eligible, you may be entitled to Unemployment Insurance benefits for the period that you were willing to work but not allowed to work. Note that there is a one-week waiting period for Unemployment Insurance benefits.

Whether an employer must pay for unused benefit pay depends upon the terms of the employer's vacation or resignation policy. Wisconsin employers are not required to provide fringe benefits such as vacation, holiday, or sick pay. When an employer does decide to create a benefit policy, the employer is free to impose any conditions it chooses. Generally, IF the employer implemented a written vacation policy AND it does not include a written forfeit policy, THEN the employer must pay the employee for any earned, unused vacation pay. If you have not been paid for unused vacation and believe you are entitled to this benefit, you can file a Labor Standards Complaint.

Employers are only allowed to deduct certain items from an employee's wages, such as taxes, insurance premiums, etc. Employers are not permitted to charge employees for breakages, cash shortages, fines or any other losses to the business, unless you have authorized the deduction in writing.

Yes. An employer must provide to the employee showing :

  1. the hours the employee worked,
  2. the wages earned by the employee, and
  3. the deductions made from that paycheck.

For more information