District Court Clarifies Meaning Of “Workmanship” For Wage Deduction Statute

Yingtao Ho

Wis. Stat. §103.455 provides that no employer may make deductions from the wages of its employees for faulty or defective workmanship, or for causing the employer to suffer losses, unless the employer complies with the requirements of the statute:  Either obtaining a written consent for the wage deduction from the employee, which was signed after the loss but prior to the deduction; or getting the employee’s representative to agree that the employee is at fault for the poor workmanship or loss; or after a court finding that the employee is at fault for the poor workmanship or loss.

For at least the last 30 years, it is unclear what §103.455 means by workmanship.  In 1987, judges of the Wisconsin Fourth District of Appeals could not reach agreement on what workmanship means.  They ended up issuing two unpublished decisions.  In one, Manley v. Windy Hill Foliage, the majority broadly defined workmanship to include all defective work performance by employees, including in that case a truck driver’s error in driving onto a scale with an overweight axle.  In the second case, Wisconsin Management Company v. Loken, the court narrowly defined workmanship to mean errors made during the manufacturing process.   Both Manley and Loken can be found at  the citation 140 Wis. 2d 866.

In a decision issued in the case of Stevens v. Oval Office Gentlement’s Club (Case #16-C-1419), Chief Judge Griesbach of the Eastern District of Wisconsin became the first judge to weigh in on how “workmanship” should be defined in 30 years.   In that case, the Defendant made deductions from the Plaintiffs’ pay for violations of its work rules such as late arrivals to, and early departures from the stage.  In finding that the deductions were covered by §103.455, Judge Griesbach ruled:

Instead, I conclude that the work covered by the statute includes any endeavor individuals are employed to perform.  Given the plain language of § 103.455 and the strong public purpose of protecting all employees from arbitrary deductions in their hard-earned wages, it would be illogical to conclude that the legislature intended to limit the type of employees eligible for protection under the statute to workers employed in manufacturing or production jobs, or to allow deductions as long as no actual loss occurred.

Under this broader definition of “workmanship”, any inadequate work performed by employees in any occupation would be covered by “workmanship”.  Wage deductions against the employee for inadequate work performance, such as a fine for failing to show up to work on time, would be covered by §103.455.  Once a wage deduction is covered by §103.455, making the deduction without the employee’s written authorization results in the employer becoming liable to the employee for twice the amount of the deduction.  A $2 deduction, for example, would make the employer liable to the employee for $4.

If you believe your employer has improperly deducted wages from you for work performance issues, or that you have not received the full amount of wages owed to you for any other reason, you may contact the author of this article, Yingtao Ho, at (414) 240-1185.