Wisconsin Legislature Introduces Bill to Hamstring Employees with Non-Compete Agreements in 2015 Assembly Bill 91

Another fast-track bill aimed at limiting employee rights in Wisconsin with a proposal to overhaul Wisconsin’s law on non-compete agreements in employment. More to come, but this bill, if passed, will significantly rewrite the law to permit far greater restrictions and enforcement of unreasonable restrictions on employees following the termination of employment whether for a good reason, bad reason or for no reason at all.

On March 12, 2015, the bill was first introduced and read then immediately referred to the Committee on Labor. The following Representatives introduced the bill: Rohrkaste, Knoll, Gannon and Murphy. Senator Farrow co-sponsored the bill.

You can follow AB91 and read the text of the bill here:

2015 Assembly Bill 91

You can follow SB69 and read the text of the bill here:

2015 Senate Bill 69

More to come on this bill in subsequent posts.

Anti-consumer Bill Introduced in Wisconsin To Hike Up Interest Rates on Judgments in Small Claims: 2015 Assembly Bill 226

The vast majority of judgments obtained in small claims courts throughout the country are in favor of credit card companies, payday lenders, auto finance companies, banks and other lenders against consumers, and many of these judgments are obtained through the “default” mechanisms in place. A default judgment occurs where the defendant, typically a consumer, does not appear or otherwise file an answer to deny the claim against him or her. Many of these are the result of a consumer never even knowing that he or she was sued and has to appear or answer. The Wisconsin Legislature, on May 19, 2015, introduced a bill that, if passed, will hike up the interest rate on judgements obtained in small claims from the current rate of 1% above prime rate, to 12%. Just seven days later, the Assembly held a pubic hearing.

This hike is anti-consumer because it will mostly affect consumers who in most cases don’t have the money to pay. This “post judgment” interest rate will cause a $1,000 judgment to grow $120 every year, just compounding the financial problems a consumer already faces. It benefits the various financial institutions because it permits them to recover a much higher amount against the consumer than it would under existing law.

The following representatives introduced the bill: Kremer, Horlacher, Brandtjen, R. Brooks, Jarchow and Knodl, cosponsored by Senators LeMahieu and Nass. Referred to Committee on Ways and Means.

To follow this bill and read its text here:

2015 Assembly Bill 226

The bill is also traveling in the Wisconsin Senate under SB76, introduced by Senators Nass, Wanggaard and LeMahieu and co-sponsored by Representatives Thiesfeldt, Murtha, Edming, Murphy, T. Larson, Born, R. Brooks, E. Brooks, Kulp, Loudenbeck, Kahl, Czaja, Kooyenga, Ripp, Ballweg, Craig and Tittl. You can follow the Senate Bill here:

2015 Senate Bill 76

Wisconsin Bill to Prohibit Discrimination Based on Status of Being Unemployed

On June 6, 2015, the Wisconsin Assembly introduced a bill to prohibit discrimination based on “employment status.” Employment status, under Assembly Bill 261, means the status of being employed or unemployed. AB261, if passed, would prohibit an employer from considering whether you are employed when making a decision on your application for employment. This bill would then encourage the reemployment of those unemployed.

The bill was introduced by by Representatives Barnes, Zamarripa, Subeck, Berceau, Bowen, Brostoff, Genrich, Goyke, Hesselbein, Hintz, Johnson, Jorgensen, Kessler, Mason, Ohnstad, Pope, Riemer, Sargent, Sinicki, Spreitzer, C. Taylor, Young and Zepnick, cosponsored by Senators Hansen, Harris Dodd, Lassa, Ringhand and Wirch. The bill was referred to Committee on State Affairs and Government Operations.

See the text of the bill here:

Wisconsin Legislature: AB261: Bill Text

July 30th National Whistleblower Appreciation Day

Today, July 30th, is National Whistleblower Appreciation Day as designated by Senate Resolution 202 (published in the Congressional Record Vol. 159, No. 111, p. S6078). Text of Resolution 202

The resolution is based on the first whistleblower legislation probably passed in the birth of the United States by members of the Continental Congress on July 30, 1778. The resolution acknowledges the the Continental Congress legislation that recognizes “the duty of all persons in the service of the United States, as well as all the other inhabitants thereof, to give the earliest information to Congress or other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge.” The resolution states the public policy of the United States to encourage “honest and good faith reporting of misconduct, fraud, misdemeanors, another crimes to the appropriate authority at the earliest time possible.”

The resolution encourages each executive agency of the Federal government to “recognize National Whistleblower Appreciation Day by “(A) informing employees, contractors working on behalf of United States taxpayers, and members of the public about the legal rights of citizens of the United States to blow the whistle; and (B) acknowledging the contributions of whistleblowers to combating waste, fraud, abuse, and violations of laws and regulations in the United States.”

In my experience representing whistleblowers in public and private employers, it is one of the most challenging things to do. There is backlash from the employer and even co-workers. It take a lot of courage to do and usually at significant costs. So if you are a whistleblower or know one, the citizens of the United States thank you today for your service to us all.

Unlawful Debt Collection by Text Message

Should a debt collection agency be permitted to send you a text message demanding payment or telling you to “call about an important matter”? The Federal Trade Commission says “No” because text messages like this don’t communicate the important consumer rights language required by such communications and consumers often have to pay for text messages.

Professor Anita Ramasastry, University of Washington Law Foundation, writes about this FTC enforcement action and why this practice should be prohibited in her post on Verdict, a Justia.com blog, at http://verdict.justia.com/2013/10/22/debt-collecting-text.

Home Care Workers Can Now Get Minimum Wage & Overtime Pay Protections

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division issued a final rule on September 17, 2013, that extends the minimum wage and overtime pay protections to direct home care worker’s that provide essential home care assistance to elderly and people with illnesses, injuries or disabilities. The change in the law will be effective on January 1, 2015. This law will help home health aides, personal care aides and certified nursing assistants that previously did not get the benefit of minimum wages or overtime pay.

The Department of Labor has more information on the new rule at www.dol.gov/whd/homecare.

Wisconsin Workers Will Find it Harder to Get and Keep Unemployment Benefits in 2013

Wisconsin’s Joint Finance Committee recently approved a modification to the state budget bill, 2013 Assembly Bill 40, for 2013-2015 that substantially curtails unemployment benefits to Wisconsin workers. The modification broadens the definition of misconduct for the purpose of disqualifying workers for unemployment benefits. Since 1941, misconduct was defined as conduct that shows a willful and substantial disregard of the employer’s interests or is not within the standards of behavior employers have a right to expect of all employees. The new definition redefines misconduct as “substantial fault.” Substantial fault would include acts or omissions of an employee over which the employee exercised reasonable control and which violate reasonable requirements of the employee’s employer. Other changes to the bill would eliminate many of the existing circumstances where an employee that must quit a position can recover benefits and lengthens the disqualification periods that workers must satisfy before becoming eligible for benefits again. This is a significant shift towards disqualifying more workers from benefits for longer periods.

The legislature was also busy with a separate bill recently passed, Assembly Bill 219/Senate Bill 200, which imposes further requirements on unemployment recipients and additional bases to disqualify unemployed workers.

These changes come at a difficult time for unemployed workers in Wisconsin. The state fell to 44th in the nation in job creation in March according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and 49th in economic outlook according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

How to Secure Your Credit Reports After Identity Theft under Wisconsin Law

If you are a Wisconsin resident and the victim of identity theft or fraud, you have the right to place Security Freeze on your consumer files with the 3 national consumer credit reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. This makes it harder for anyone to use your consumer information through the agencies to open new credit accounts. You can place the Security Freeze on your consumer files by contacting the three agencies and reporting the fraud and requesting the Security Freeze. It costs $10 for each agency. More information on this process is at http://datcp.wi.gov/uploads/Consumer/pdf/IDTheftCreditFreezeFAQ632.pdf. Sample letters to each agency are available at www.privacy.wi.gov, which allow you to fill in your personal information and print the letters for mailing.

The contact information for placing a Security Freeze alert is:

    Equifax: CSC Credit Services
    Security Freeze
    PO Box 674438
    Houston, TX 77267-4438

    Experian: Experian Security Freeze
    PO Box 9554
    Allen, TX 75013

    TransUnion : TransUnion Security Freeze
    PO Box 6790
    Fullerton, CA 92834-6790

Under Federal law, you are also entitled to place a Fraud Alert on your consumer files and a free copy of your consumer file, known as a “consumer disclosure,” after you are the victim of fraud. For more information on your rights under Federal law, see our Blog entry on How to Secure Your Credit Reports After Identity Theft under Federal Law.

How to Secure Your Credit Reports After Identity Theft under Federal Law

If you are the victim of identity theft or fraud, you have the right to place a fraud alert on your consumer files with the 3 national consumer credit reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. This makes it harder for anyone to use your consumer information through the agencies to open new credit accounts. You can place the fraud alert on your consumer files by contacting one of the three agencies and reporting the fraud and requesting the fraud alert. More information on this process is at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/helpfaq#fraudalert. You are also entitled to a free copy of your consumer file, known as a “consumer disclosure,” after you are the victim of fraud. You can request this at the time you place the fraud alert.

The contact information for placing a fraud alert is:

  • Equifax: 1-877-576-5734; www.alerts.equifax.com
  • Experian: 1-888-397-3742; www.experian.com/fraud
  • TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com

If you are a resident of Wisconsin, you may also have the right to place a Security Freeze on your files. See our Blog entry on How to Secure Your Credit Reports After Identity Theft under Wisconsin Law for more information.

Getting Fired for Taking Time Off to Vote in Wisconsin

Can I take time off from work at my job to vote in Wisconsin without getting fired? Do you know the answer to that question? Take a look at our article, Time to Vote, Your Job and Your Rights in Wisconsin, on our website at http://www.celcwi.com/wisconsin_law_permitting_employees_time_vote.html, principally authored by Wyatt D. Dittburner, to learn more.

Wyatt discusses why employees in Wisconsin can take up to 3 successive hours off of work to vote without fear of being fired if the employee provides the employer notice before Election Day and goes at a time set by the employer. If the employer refuses to permit someone to take time off to vote or disciplines someone for taking time off to vote, like firing them, the affected employee may be entitled to bring a claim against the employer for harms that result.

By Gordon Leech