If you performed work in Wisconsin and/or work for a WI-based employer that deducted money from your wages without your permission, you may have strong legal rights, depending on the circumstances. Below, I describe several laws that make various kinds of wage deductions unlawful. Please note that the information in this article is not legal advice for your specific situation; only if you consult directly with an employee rights attorney could you get legal advice specific to your situation (i.e. whether any law was arguably violated and what legal options, if any, are available and recommended for you).
Wisconsin Statute 103.455 generally prohibits an employer from deducting money from an employee’s wages in order to cover the employer’s financial losses that the employer perceives to be owed by employee and/or to pay for property or monetary losses that the employer believes were caused by the fault of the employee. See Wis. Stat. 103.455; see also, Donovan v. Schlesner, 72 Wis. 2d 74, 240 N.W.2d 135 (1976). An employer is allowed by Wis. Stat. 103.455 to make a wage deduction if the employee provides written consent in advance for that deduction. Please note the employee must approve that specific deduction in advance; if the employee signed a contract or document that purports to give permission to the employer to make wage deductions in a general sense (i.e. not for any known/specific deduction), said contract’s terms are not valid per Wis. Stat. 103.455. If an employer is sued and a Court finds the employer violated Wis. Stat. 103.455, the employer could have to repay the deducted amount to the employee, and could potentially be ordered to pay double the amount (per a statutory penalty).
Also, Wisconsin and Federal minimum wage laws — as applied to some but not all employer-deduction situations– can prohibit certain wage deductions. Namely, if an employee is subject to minimum wage law protections (i.e. if the employee is not exempted from a given law per certain loopholes), AND if the employer’s deduction from a given paycheck results in the employee being paid less than the minimum wage rate for time worked that given pay period, then the employer’s deduction could potentially be in violation of WI and/or Federal minimum wage laws. These minimum wage laws provide their own potential legal relief and potential recovery of various money, including statutory penalty money and reimbursement of reasonable attorney fees and legal costs.
In addition, there are other areas of law– e.g. WI contract law, Federal antitrust law, etc.– that are arguably implicated and/or violated in certain scenarios where wages are deducted by an employer or by an employer’s contractor (e.g. by the employer’s contracted relocation expense vendor or payroll vendor).
Last but not least, sometimes an employment relationship involves not only Wisconsin but other state(s), and certain other State laws prohibit certain wage deductions as well. For example, the Illinois statute 820 ILCS 115/9 has prohibitions for certain employer wage deductions as well.
If you are interested in learning whether any given law(s) was violated by any given employer wage deduction(s), I’d strongly recommend you consult directly with an employee rights attorney before you take any action involving the employer (i.e. before you complain to your employer, tell them they violated a law, and/or take any legal action). If an employee tries to assess or handle such legal issues without an attorney’s assistance, there can be increased risks of employer retaliation, and/or risks of losing out on legal rights or opportunities. Thus, talking to an attorney can help not only in getting a reliable assessment about laws potentially violated, but the attorney could also advise about potential retaliation risks etc. for a given situation, and advise how to reduce or eliminate those risks. Many employee rights attorneys, including myself, offer free initial phone consultations, so there would be nothing to lose in making a free consult call about any given wage deduction(s), to see if there are any viable legal rights or courses of action the attorney recommends.