With little fanfare, the Wisconsin Legislature passed legislation in 2015 that largely benefited employers in the state. We have summarized, below, the legislation that may have flown under the radar:
Day of rest in seven may be voluntarily waived. As we previously reported, the Assembly introduced legislation that would allow an employee to voluntarily waive the requirement that an employer provide the employee with a day of rest every seven days. While that particular bill did not pass, the substance of the bill was incorporated into the 2015 budget and subsequently became law. Effective July 14, 2015, section 103.85(2)(g) of the Wisconsin Statutes was amended to allow employees to agree in writing to waive the day of rest requirement, as long as they are not coerced by their employer to do so. This change will greatly benefit employers covered by the statute, particularly retail and manufacturing employers during busy seasons.
Small employers may apply for grants to create wellness programs. On March 13, 2014, Wisconsin Act 137 was enacted to provide grants to Wisconsin businesses that employ less than 50 employees to begin an employee wellness program. The grants are intended to reimburse up to 30% of wellness program costs for one year, up to $15,000. Employers may use funds to provide health education classes, to subsidize the use of fitness facilities and to create internal policies that promote healthy behavior. The grant went into effect on October 1, 2015. Employers may submit a grant application until December 31, 2018. Employers only need to apply once for a grant. More information is available on the Department of Health website.
LIRC transferred to department of administration. The 2015 Budget also shook‑up the oversight of the Labor and Industry Review Commission (LIRC), the administrative agency charged with reviewing decisions made by administrative law judges regarding Wisconsin Unemployment Insurance, Worker’s Compensation and Equal Rights cases. LIRC was moved from the Department of Workforce Development to the Department of Administration. In addition, the legislation made LIRC’s general counsel a political appointee of the governor. Finally, the budget cut funding for the administration of unemployment insurance benefits from $2,235,900 to $1,423,400. The budget cuts will likely have a significant impact on the processing of unemployment claims and appeals.
Notably absent from the foregoing list is the restrictive covenant legislation that was introduced in the state Senate and Assembly on March 5, 2015. The proposed amendments to the Wisconsin restrictive covenant statute, Wis. Stat. § 103.465, would have radically changed the non-compete landscape in Wisconsin. However, following the historic Runzheimer decision (in which the Wisconsin Supreme Court determined that continued employment may constitute lawful consideration to support an otherwise valid restrictive covenant agreement) and the resignation of the bill’s lead sponsor, Senator Paul Farrow (to become the County Executive of Waukesha County), the bill lost steam. It is unlikely that the bill will pass this legislative session.