Many workers are shocked to learn how few protections Wisconsin or federal employment laws afford them in the workplace. DCZThe arena of wage and hour laws is no different. Workers, and perhaps some employers, assume that the law protects most wage and hour abuses. The sad truth is that while the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) offers a minimal layer of protection, it is up to the state to offer more robust measures. Many states, including Wisconsin, do not offer much protection beyond the FLSA. The following discussion outlines some areas where workers may be surprised to learn they have no legal remedy for wage and hour abuse.

Most Workers Have No Right to a “Day of Rest”

“One day’s rest in seven” is a concept that dates back to the turn of the 19th century and one that many Americans assume is cemented into the law; this is not the case. There is no federal legal right to “one day’s rest in seven.” Wisconsin law does offer some protection, but it is thin and recently grew thinner. Wisconsin Statute Section 103.85 only ever offered one day’s rest in seven to “factory or mercantile” employees, a sliver of the working population. As if this was too generous a protection, Wisconsin’s conservative legislator created a provision whereby an employee can “opt-out” of this 24-hour period of hedonistic decadence and get back to work. See Wis. Stat. § 103.85(2)(g).

There Is No Right to Meal Breaks, Coffee Breaks, or Bathroom Breaks

Common sense tells us that an employer should be required to allow us time to eat and use the facilities during a workday, but this common sense assumption is not codified in the law. Federal law tells us when breaks must be compensated, such as when they are excessively short or interrupted. Wisconsin laws add that during unpaid breaks, the employee must also be allowed to leave the premises. However, neither Wisconsin nor federal law requires an employer to offer breaks. This means an employer could legally expect an employee to work a 12-hour shift without a bathroom or meal break.

There Is No Right to Overtime Wages for Working Weekends, Holidays, or Over Eight Hours a Day

Overtime under the federal FLSA and Wisconsin law is a narrow concept. In most workplace settings (outside of union or prevailing wage work) the only overtime that is mandated by the law is for work hours over 40 in a week. Overtime for work over 8 hours in a day or over 12 hours in a day is not required in Wisconsin. Similarly, your employer can ask you to work on Christmas, Thanksgiving, Arbor Day, or any other holiday without additional overtime payment. Of course, an employer is welcome to offer additional pay.

There Is No Right to Sick Leave or Vacation Time

Neither federal law nor Wisconsin law requires an employer to offer time off for sick employees. For long absences, the FMLA or WFMLA may offer an unpaid leave period. Work injuries are also protected. However, for your garden-variety ailments like the cold or flu, which may cause a day or two absence, there is simply no protection. Similarly, there is no requirement that an employer offer any time for family or personal vacations. As such, if you do not have employer granted vacation or sick time available for an absence, you could legally be fired for being sick or asking for time off.

While the above makes it appear that there is a complete lack of workplace protection for wages and hours, our attorneys are frequently able to evaluate abusive workplaces and find areas that are protected by the law and for which an individual may seek recovery. If you feel your employer is subjecting you to abusive wage and hour policies, please give a Hawks Quindel wage and hour attorney a call to evaluate your claim at (608) 257-0040.

David Zoeller

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