Labor and Employment Law Overview: Tennessee

Labor and Employment Law Overview requirements for other states

Federal law and guidance on this subject should be reviewed together with this section.

Author: XpertHR Editorial Team

Summary

  • Tennessee law prohibits an employer from discriminating and retaliating against employees in a variety of protected classes. Employers must also provide equal pay and whistleblower protections. See EEO, Diversity and Employee Relations.
  • Tennessee requires the use of E-Verify for certain employers and permits preemployment drug testing. See Recruiting and Hiring.
  • In Tennessee, there are requirements relating to meal breaks, breastfeeding breaks and child labor. See Wage and Hour.
  • Tennessee has laws that relate to employee pay and benefits, including health care continuation, payment of wages, pay frequency and wage deductions requirements. See Pay and Benefits.
  • Under Tennessee law, employees are entitled to certain leaves or time off, including parental leave, voting leave, jury duty leave, military leave and emergency responder leave. See Time Off and Leaves of Absence.
  • Tennessee law requires employers to provide a safe working environment for their employees, including some requirements that are more extensive than federal law. Tennessee also prohibits smoking in the workplace and texting while driving. An employer may prohibit weapons in the workplace but not in personal vehicles in employer parking lots. See Health and Safety.
  • When employment ends, Tennessee employers must comply with applicable final pay, job reference and mass layoff notification requirements. See Organizational Exit.

Introduction to Employment Law in Tennessee

Tennessee has laws that provide greater protections to employees than federal law, including health care continuation coverage obligations and mass layoff notification requirements for smaller employers, but generally follows federal law with respect to topics such as the minimum wage, overtime and occupational safety and health.

Select Tennessee employment requirements are summarized below to help an employer understand the range of employment laws affecting the employer-employee relationship in the state. An employer must comply with both federal and state law.

An employer must also comply with applicable municipal law obligations affecting the employment relationship, in addition to complying with state and federal requirements.

EEO, Diversity and Employee Relations

Key Tennessee requirements impacting EEO, diversity and employee relations are:

Fair Employment Practices

The Tennessee Human Rights Act (THRA) generally applies to employers that have eight or more employees within Tennessee and prohibits discrimination and harassment based on a number of protected classes including:

  • Race;
  • Color;
  • Creed;
  • Religion;
  • Sex;
  • Age (40 and over); and
  • National origin (including ancestry).

The THRA also prohibits retaliation for opposing discrimination; filing charges; and testifying, assisting or participating in an investigation, proceeding or hearing.

The Tennessee Disability Act (TDA) generally prohibits employers with eight or more employees from discriminating against individuals on the basis of a physical, mental or visual disability (including discriminating against a blind person for using a guide dog). However, the TDA does not require an employer to provide reasonable accommodations.

Equal Pay

An employer is prohibited from discriminating between employees in the same establishment based on sex by paying any employee salary or wages rates less than the rates paid to any employee of the opposite sex for comparable work on jobs requiring comparable skill, effort and responsibility, and that are performed under similar working conditions. Wage differentials are permitted if based on a seniority system, a merit system, a system that measures earnings by quality or quantity of production, or any other reasonable differential that is based on a factor other than sex.

Whistleblower Protections

The Tennessee Public Protection Act (TPPA) prohibits an employer from terminating an employee solely because the employee refused to participate in or remain silent about illegal activities.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on EEO, diversity and employee relations practices in Tennessee can be found in the Tennessee Employee Handbook Table of Contents, Disabilities (ADA): Tennessee, EEO - Discrimination: Tennessee, EEO - Harassment: Tennessee, EEO - Retaliation: Tennessee, Employee Discipline: Tennessee, Tennessee Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Tennessee? Federal requirements can be found in Disabilities (ADA): Federal, EEO - Discrimination: Federal, EEO - Harassment: Federal, EEO - Retaliation: Federal and Employee Discipline: Federal.

Recruiting and Hiring

Key Tennessee requirements impacting recruiting and hiring are:

E-Verify

The Tennessee Lawful Employment Act requires employers with six to 49 employees to verify that all newly hired employees are eligible to work in the US either by using the federal E-Verify system or by requiring the employees to provide documentation that proves identity and work eligibility.

Employers with 50 or more employees must use E-Verify to verify the work authorization status of new hires.

Drug Testing

An employer that implements a drug testing program must follow the drug-free workplace law's requirements. An employer must provide job applicants with certain information prior to testing. The employer may require job applicants to submit to a drug test only after extending a conditional offer of employment. The employer may refuse to hire a job applicant based on a refusal to submit to a drug test or on a positive confirmed drug test.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on recruiting and hiring practices in Tennessee can be found in the Tennessee Employee Handbook Table of Contents, Immigration, Form I-9 and Work Visas: Tennessee, Preemployment Screening and Testing: Tennessee and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Tennessee? Federal requirements can be found in Immigration, Form I-9 and Work Visas: Federal and Preemployment Screening and Testing: Federal.

Wage and Hour

Key Tennessee requirements impacting wages and hours are:

Meal Breaks

A Tennessee employer with five or more employees must provide a 30-minute unpaid meal break to employees scheduled to work six consecutive hours. An exception applies to workplaces that, by the nature of business, provide for ample opportunity to rest or take a break. The meal break may not be scheduled during or before the first hour of scheduled work.

Breastfeeding Breaks

An employer must provide reasonable, unpaid break time each day to an employee who needs to express breast milk for her infant child, unless doing so would unduly disrupt the employer's operation. If possible, the break time should run concurrently with any other break time the employer already provides.

Child Labor

Child labor laws in Tennessee restrict the occupations in which minors may be employed and the number of hours and times during which they may work.

Except for certain exemptions, minors under 14 years of age may not be employed.

Minors in Tennessee are prohibited from working in any occupation that interferes with their schooling, health or well-being. Minors are also prohibited from working in a variety of occupations, such as those that involves driving a motor vehicle, mining, logging, roofing and excavation.

Minors ages 14 and 15 may not work:

  • During school hours;
  • Between 7:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., if the next day is a school day;
  • Between 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.;
  • More than three hours a day on school days;
  • More than 18 hours a week during a school week;
  • More than eight hours a day on nonschool days; or
  • More than 40 hours a week during nonschool weeks.

Minors ages 16 and 17 may not work:

  • During hours when the minor is required to attend classes; or
  • Between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., Sunday through Thursday evenings preceding a school day, except a minor may work until midnight up to three nights with parental or guardian consent.

Minor employees scheduled to work six consecutive hours are generally entitled to a 30-minute unpaid rest or meal break. The break may not be scheduled during or before the first hour of scheduled work activity.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on wage and hour practices in Tennessee can be found in the Tennessee Employee Handbook Table of Contents, Hours Worked: Tennessee, Child Labor: Tennessee, Tennessee Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Tennessee? Federal requirements can be found in Hours Worked: Federal and Child Labor: Federal.

Pay and Benefits

Key Tennessee requirements impacting pay and benefits are:

Health Care Continuation

In Tennessee, group health policies issued to employers, regardless of size, generally must include health care continuation coverage. Continuation coverage must be extended to employees and their covered dependents regardless of the reason health care coverage was terminated, unless the group policy was terminated:

  • In its entirety; or
  • For the insured class to which the employee belonged.

However, the reason for coverage termination affects the duration continuation coverage lasts.

Payment of Wages

Employees may be paid in cash or by check without discount, exchange or cost of collection. An employer may pay wages by direct deposit or electronic paycard if certain conditions are met.

Pay Frequency

The Tennessee Wage Regulation Act requires an employer with five or more employees to pay wages at least once a month on regular paydays established in advance. An employer may pay wages more frequently. An employee who is absent on payday must be paid on demand. A notice of pay frequency must be posted in a conspicuous place.

Wage Deductions

Under Tennessee law, an employer may not make any deductions from an employee's pay without the employee's prior written authorization. With authorization, the employer may make deductions for:

  • Health insurance;
  • Uniforms;
  • Loans or salary advances; and
  • Cash shortages or breakage, in certain cases.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on pay and benefits practices in Tennessee can be found in Health Care Continuation (COBRA): Tennessee, Payment of Wages: Tennessee, Tennessee Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Tennessee? Federal requirements can be found in Health Care Continuation (COBRA): Federal and Payment of Wages: Federal.

Time Off and Leaves of Absence

Tennessee has few laws relating to required time off and leaves of absence for employees. These laws include:

  • Parental leave (covering employers with 100 or more employees);
  • Voting leave;
  • Jury duty leave;
  • Military leave; and
  • Emergency responder leave.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on time off and leave of absence practices in Tennessee can be found in the Tennessee Employee Handbook Table of Contents, FMLA: Tennessee, Jury Duty: Tennessee, Other Leaves: Tennessee, USERRA: Tennessee and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Tennessee? Federal requirements can be found in FMLA: Federal, Jury Duty: Federal, Other Leaves: Federal and USERRA: Federal.

Health and Safety

Key Tennessee requirements impacting health and safety are:

Occupational Safety and Health

Tennessee has a federally approved State Plan that covers the safety and health of private employees. The Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Act covers all private employers, with some exceptions. Although the majority of state standards mirror the federal requirements, some state rules are more extensive (e.g., bloodborne pathogens, air contaminants and hazard communication).

Smoke-Free Workplace

Tennessee's Non-Smoker Protection Act prohibits smoking in most enclosed places, including public areas and private workplaces. An employer must inform workers and visitors of the ban and clearly post signage indicating the facility is smoke-free at entrances and exits. Exceptions apply.

Safe Driving Practices

Tennessee bans all drivers from texting while operating a vehicle.

Weapons in the Workplace

An employer has the right to:

  • Prohibit the possession of all weapons at meetings it conducts and on property that it owns, operates, manages or controls; or
  • Restrict the possession of weapons at meetings it conducts and on property that it owns, operates, manages or controls, by prohibiting all weapons except a concealed handgun carried by a concealed carry weapon (CCW) permit holder.

An employer must post appropriate notices of the prohibition or restriction in prominent locations, including all entrances primarily used by people entering the property, building or portion of the property or building where weapons are prohibited or restricted. The notice must be plainly visible to the average person entering the location.

An employer generally may not prevent an employee from keeping a gun in his or her own car, even in a private parking area.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on health and safety practices in Tennessee can be found in the Tennessee Employee Handbook Table of Contents, HR and Workplace Safety: Tennessee, Employee Health: Tennessee, Workplace Security: Tennessee, Tennessee Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Tennessee? Federal requirements can be found in HR and Workplace Safety (OSHA Compliance): Federal, Employee Health: Federal and Workplace Security: Federal.

Organizational Exit

Key Tennessee requirements impacting organizational exit are:

Final Pay

An employer with five or more employees must pay an employee who quits or is fired his or her full wages by the later of:

  • The next regular payday; or
  • 21 days from the date of the termination.

An employer must pay an employee for accrued vacation or other compensatory time if its policy or employment contract provides for payment. However, the law does not require an employer to provide paid or unpaid vacation time or establish a written vacation pay policy.

An employer may pay up to $10,000 of wages due to a deceased employee to the employee's designated beneficiary. If there is no designated beneficiary, wages may be paid to the surviving spouse, and if there is no surviving spouse, to the employee's children.

References

Any employer who provides truthful, fair and unbiased information about a current or former employee's job performance in response to a request from a prospective employer is presumed to be acting in good faith. An employee may rebut the presumption of good faith by showing that the information was:

  • Knowingly false;
  • Deliberately misleading;
  • Disclosed for a malicious purpose;
  • Disclosed in reckless disregard for its falsity or defamatory nature; or
  • A violation of the employee's civil rights under employment discrimination laws.

Mass Layoff Notifications

Under Tennessee's Plant Closings and Reduction in Operations Act, an employer with 50-99 full-time employees in the state is required to provide 60 days' advance notice of any plant closing, modernizing, relocation beyond 50 miles or reduction in force that affects 50 or more employees during a three-month period. Notice must be provided to the state and to all affected employees. The Act does not apply to reductions in operations that result solely from a labor dispute, that occur at a construction site or other temporary workplace or that result from seasonal factors.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on organizational exit practices in Tennessee can be found in Payment of Wages: Tennessee, Employee Communications: Tennessee, Involuntary Terminations: Tennessee and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Tennessee? Federal requirements can be found in Payment of Wages: Federal, Employee Communications: Federal and Involuntary Terminations: Federal.