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Many delivery drivers are expected to use their own vehicles and pay for their own gas in order to perform their jobs. Other types of employees may be expected to provide their own tools, purchase their own uniforms, or maintain their own vehicles in the course of performing work. These costs can add up and lead to employees earning below the minimum wage, and this can be illegal under Wisconsin wage laws.

Wisconsin Law Protects Workers From Illegal Payroll Deductions

Federal and Wisconsin state laws protect employees from unlawful deductions that bring their wages below the minimum wage. The Fair Labor Standards Act requires that employees receive their wages “free and clear” of illegal deductions. Illegal deductions are those which bring the employee’s hourly wage below the statutory minimum wage. In Wisconsin, the statutory minimum wage is $7.25.

It is important for delivery drivers and other employees who provide their own tools to be aware of their rights to avoid wage theft.

Employers of Delivery Drivers Must Consider Vehicle Expenses in Wage Calculations

Most delivery drivers provide their own vehicles. This means they are paying for gas, insurance, and vehicle maintenance in order to work. But when these costs mean the driver is effectively earning less than the minimum wage, drivers are suffering a wage loss. Delivery drivers for Domino’s, Pizza Hut, and other pizza delivery companies have filed multiple suits alleging such violations.

Some employers provide reimbursement to their drivers, but often these reimbursements aren’t enough to fully compensate the drivers. For example:

A delivery driver is paid $7.50 per hour, a delivery fee of $1.50 per delivery, and keeps his tips.

But each delivery requires about 5 miles of driving round-trip. At the IRS reimbursement rate of $0.56/mile, this means the driver is incurring expenses of $2.80 per trip.

If the driver makes 3 deliveries in an hour, his earnings work out as follows:

$7.50/hour x 1 hour = $7.50 hourly wage
$1.00/tip x 3 deliveries = $3.00 tips
$1.50/delivery x 3 deliveries = $4.50 delivery fees
= $15.00 paid

But the driver has incurred costs for each trip: $2.80/delivery x 3 deliveries = $8.40 costs.

As a result, the driver’s actual hourly rate is only $6.60 ($15.00 paid less $8.40 in costs). This is below the minimum wage, so legally the employer must make up the difference.

Employers Must Ensure Work Item Expenses (Tools, Uniforms, Travel) Do Not Result In Illegal Hourly Wages

Employers are permitted to make deductions from an employee’s wages for items that are for the benefit or convenience of the employer, such as tools or uniforms. But these deductions cannot bring the employee’s hourly wage below the statutory minimum wage. Consider the following example:

An employee works 30 hours per week as a housecleaner. She is paid $8.00/hour. She must pay her employer for her uniform and pay for her own cleaning equipment. Until her uniform is paid off, $20 is deducted each week from her paycheck. $10 is deducted each week for cleaning supplies.

30 hours x $8/hr = $240 hourly wages
– $20 uniform
– $10 supplies
= $210 paid

$210 divided by 30 hours worked gives this employee an hourly wage of $7/hour. These deductions bring her below the minimum wage and are not legal.

Wisconsin Employees Must Consent to Deductions for Loss, Theft, or Damage

In Wisconsin, employers are permitted to make deductions from wages for lost, stolen, or damaged property. One common example is taking a deduction from an employee’s wages if the cash register is short at the end of the night.

But Wisconsin law provides protections for employees in this situation. An employer must get written consent from an employee before making such a deduction from their wages. That agreement must be made after the loss but before the deduction. This means an agreement in a handbook, or at the start of employment, which says an employee will be responsible for such losses does not satisfy this requirement.

Hawks Quindel Attorneys Can Help Ensure You Are Paid What You’re Owed
If your employer requires you to provide your own tools for work, or has made deductions from your wages without your consent, call the attorneys at Hawks Quindel for a free consultation to protect yourself from wage theft.

Caitlin Madden

Associate at Hawks Quindel, S.C.
Caitlin Madden is an associate attorney in Hawks Quindel’s Madison, Wisconsin office, where she represents employees in wage and hour litigation and employment discrimination. A former elementary school teacher, she is passionate about using the law to help individuals who are facing overwhelming challenges.