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Wisconsin Workers' Compensation Legal Library

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102.04 Definition of employer.

(1)  The following shall constitute employers subject to the provisions of this chapter, within the meaning of s. 102.03:

(a) The state and each local governmental unit in this state.


1. Every person who usually employs 3 or more employees for services performed in this state, whether in one or more trades, businesses, professions, or occupations, and whether in one or more locations.

2. Every person who usually employs less than 3 employees, provided the person has paid wages of $500 or more in any calendar quarter for services performed in this state. Such employer shall become subject on the 10th day of the month next succeeding such quarter.

3. This paragraph shall not apply to farmers or farm labor.

(c) Every person engaged in farming who on any 20 consecutive or nonconsecutive days during a calendar year employs 6 or more employees, whether in one or more locations. The provisions of this chapter shall apply to such employer 10 days after the twentieth such day.

(d) Every joint venture electing under s. 102.28 (2) (a) to be an employer.

(e) Every person to whom pars. (a) to (d) are not applicable, who has any person in service under any contract of hire, express or implied, oral or written, and who, at or prior to the time of the injury to the employee for which compensation may be claimed, shall, as provided in s. 102.05, have elected to become subject to the provisions of this chapter, and who shall not, prior to such accident, have effected a withdrawal of such election.

(2) Except with respect to a partner or member electing under s. 102.075, members of partnerships or limited liability companies shall not be counted as employees. Except as provided in s. 102.07 (5) (a), a person under contract of hire for the performance of any service for any employer subject to this section is not the employer of any other person with respect to that service, and that other person shall, with respect to that service, be an employee only of the employer for whom the service is being performed.

(2m) A temporary help agency is the employer of an employee whom the temporary help agency has placed with or leased to another employer that compensates the temporary help agency for the employee's services. A temporary help agency is liable under s. 102.03 for all compensation and other payments payable under this chapter to or with respect to that employee, including any payments required under s. 102.16 (3), 102.18 (1) (b) 3. or (bp), 102.22 (1), 102.35 (3), 102.57, or 102.60. Except as permitted under s. 102.29, a temporary help agency may not seek or receive reimbursement from another employer for any payments made as a result of that liability.

(2r) For purposes of this chapter, a franchisor, as defined in 16 CFR 436.1 (k), is not considered to be an employer of a franchisee, as defined in 16 CFR 436.1 (i), or of an employee of a franchisee, unless any of the following applies:

(a) The franchisor has agreed in writing to assume that role.

(b) The franchisor has been found by the department or the division to have exercised a type or degree of control over the franchisee or the franchisee's employees that is not customarily exercised by a franchisor for the purpose of protecting the franchisor's trademarks and brand.

(3) As used in this chapter “farming" means the operation of farm premises owned or rented by the operator. “Farm premises" means areas used for operations herein set forth, but does not include other areas, greenhouses or other similar structures unless used principally for the production of food and farm plants. “Farmer" means any person engaged in farming as defined. Operation of farm premises shall be deemed to be the planting and cultivating of the soil thereof; the raising and harvesting of agricultural, horticultural or arboricultural crops thereon; the raising, breeding, tending, training and management of livestock, bees, poultry, fur-bearing animals, wildlife or aquatic life, or their products, thereon; the processing, drying, packing, packaging, freezing, grading, storing, delivering to storage, to market or to a carrier for transportation to market, distributing directly to consumers or marketing any of the above-named commodities, substantially all of which have been planted or produced thereon; the clearing of such premises and the salvaging of timber and management and use of wood lots thereon, but not including logging, lumbering or wood cutting operations unless conducted as an accessory to other farming operations; the managing, conserving, improving and maintaining of such premises or the tools, equipment and improvements thereon and the exchange of labor, services or the exchange of use of equipment with other farmers in pursuing such activities. The operation for not to exceed 30 days during any calendar year, by any person deriving the person's principal income from farming, of farm machinery in performing farming services for other farmers for a consideration other than exchange of labor shall be deemed farming. Operation of such premises shall be deemed to include also any other activities commonly considered to be farming whether conducted on or off such premises by the farm operator.

History: 1975 c. 199; 1983 a. 98; 1989 a. 64; 1993 a. 112; 1997 a. 38; 1999 a. 9; 2001 a. 37; 2005 a. 172; 2007 a. 20; 2009 a. 206; 2015 a. 180, 203.

When an employee simultaneously performs service for 2 employers under their joint control and the service for each is the same or closely related, both employers are liable for worker's compensation. Insurance Co. of North America v. DILHR 45 Wis. 2d 361, 173 N.W.2d 192 (1970).

Wisconsin's worker's compensation jurisprudence clearly recognizes that an in-state injury in the course of employment will give rise to coverage under the act. When an out-of-state employer sends an out-of-state employee to Wisconsin and the employee is injured or killed in Wisconsin in the course of employment, Wisconsin's act is applicable. Therefore, a coemployee has no liability for the employee's death and the coemployee's insurers were properly dismissed from the case. Estate of Torres v. Empire Fire and Marine Insurance Company, 2008 WI App 113, 313 Wis. 2d 371, 756 N.W.2d 662, 07-1519.

The county was found to be the employer, for worker's compensation purposes, of a care giver for a service recipient under the long-term support community options waiver program under s. 46.27 (11). County of Barron v. Labor and Industry Review Commission, 2010 WI App 149, 330 Wis. 2d 203, 792 N.W.2d 584, 09-1845.

Using dictionary definitions of “usually” in sub. (1) (b) 1., an “employer” is a person who ordinarily, customarily, or habitually employs 3 or more employees or who more often than not employs 3 or more employees. Noyce v. Aggressive Metals, Inc. 2016 WI App 58, 371 Wis. 2d 548, 885 N.W.2d 150, 14-2143.

Under sub. (2m), the employee's “employer" was the temporary help agency that the defendant compensated for the employee's services. The exclusive remedy provision under s. 102.03 (2) therefore prohibited the employee's estate from bringing tort claims against the temporary help agency but did not prohibit the estate from pursuing tort claims against the defendant and its insurer. Ehr v. West Bend Mutual Insurance Company, 2018 WI App 14, 380 Wis. 2d 138, 908 N.W.2d 486, 17-0142.

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