“And on the Seventh Day … the Employee Worked” – Wisconsin Modifies its “One Day of Rest in Seven” Law

Wisconsin, like several other states, has a “One Day of Rest in Seven” law that, subject to certain exceptions, requires factory and “mercantile establishment” employers to provide their employees with “at least 24 consecutive hours of rest in every 7 consecutive days.” Wis. Stats. §103.85. 

Effective July 14, 2015 Wisconsin enacted a new exception to this requirement. Employers can now permit an employee to work seven consecutive days if the employee “states in writing that he or she voluntarily chooses to work without at least 24 consecutive hours of rest in 7 consecutive days.” Wis. Stats. §103.85 (2) (g) (at Section 3078bg). For those employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement with contrary provisions, the amendment does not become effective until “the day on which the collective bargaining agreement expires or is extended, modified, or renewed, whichever occurs first.” Id. at Section 9351.

The new exception has three key components: (1) the employee’s agreement must be in writing; (2) it must be voluntarily given; and (3) the writing must actually contain words stating that the employee voluntarily chooses to work seven consecutive days without 24 consecutive hours rest.

Of course, as the employee’s consent must be voluntarily given, an employer may not coerce an employee into providing it under the threat of discipline or some other adverse employment action. Nor may an employer discipline or discharge an employee for refusing to voluntarily agree to work 7 days straight.

Notably, the statute is silent on when the employer must obtain the employee’s written agreement. Thus, it is an open question whether an employee’s consent must be given prior to the first day worked, or just at some point prior to working the seventh day, or can actually be obtained after the employee has worked the seven days. Given the “voluntary” requirement and to avoid an allegation of coercion, it is recommended that an employer obtain the employee’s written consent at some point before the employee works the 7th consecutive day.

Technically, Wisconsin employers already had a method available to permit employees to work up to 12 days straight without a 24 hour break. To do so, an employer must merely schedule the employee’s “days of rest” on the first and last days of a two calendar week period; the employee can then lawfully work up to 12 consecutive days in-between. Wis. Admin. Code Ch. DWD §275.01(1).

Nevertheless, the new amendment gives employers further flexibility to meet changing production needs, while providing employees with additional opportunities to earn greater income at the time of their choosing.