Federal and state employment laws provide protection to employees at all stages of the employment process, from hiring to firing. Here are some points to know if you are an employee in Tennessee.
Help-wanted ads, interviews, and hiring decisions are not allowed to be discriminatory. Employers cannot take into account factors like race, age, gender, color, pregnancy, religion, and disability in their interviewing and hiring decisions.
Some interview questions are considered unlawful, such as those relating to pregnancy, race, ethnicity, age, religion, whether you attend church, and whether you have any disabilities.
Minimum Wage and Overtime
Federal law sets the minimum wage and overtime rules to cover most, but not all, employees and employers across the nation. States may create their own minimum wage and overtime laws, which may provide greater protection than their federal counterparts. Tennessee has not passed any of its own minimum wage laws, so federal law governs.
Employers are required to provide a safe working environment for their employees. They may not fire employees who highlight unsafe working conditions, such as pollutants, faulty equipment, lack of safety devices, contamination, and similar issues.
Workers’ compensation is a system of insurance that provides replacement income and medical benefits to employees who are injured or who contract an occupational disease in the course of employment. Workers who receive this compensation do so in exchange for giving up the right to sue the employer for personal injuries under state negligence law. Workers’ compensation provides qualified, eligible employees with medical treatment, hospital treatment, and partial income replacement benefits such as temporary disability payments or compensation for a resulting permanent impairment until the worker can return to the job or reaches the maximum medical improvement.
Not all Tennessee employees and employers are covered under state workers’ compensation laws. Employers with five or more employees are legally required to carry workers’ compensation insurance for employees. Smaller employers can voluntarily “opt in” for coverage. All employees of a covered employer working under contracts of hire are protected. Job applicants, casual workers and volunteers are not covered. To be covered, an employee must have been personally injured while working on the job, and the injury must have arisen in the course of employment.
Some types of time off are mandated by federal law, and some by state laws, for example:
- The federal Family and medical leave Family Medical Leave Act and Tennessee's Family and Medical Leave offer employees time off for parental and pregnancy leave, nursing an infant, adoption.
- Time to vote – Tennessee allows employees up to three hours of paid time off to vote. An employee must ask the employer for leave prior to noon the day before the election. Employees may take leave from work unless polls are open for three or more hours before or after the employee’s shift. Some small employers may not be required to comply.
All forms of harassment in the workplace are illegal pursuant to federal law. Harassment encompasses, but is not limited to, sexual harassment. Harassment is unwelcomed verbal or physical conduct based on race, sex, color, sexual orientation, religion, age, national origin, retaliation, or disability. Conduct equates to harassment when it is severe enough to create a hostile work environment, or effects a noticeable change in an employee’s status or benefits.
Most states offer “at-will” employment. Without a contract, either party may end employment for any reason. Tennessee is an “at-will” state. Employers cannot fire employees for unlawful or discriminatory reasons based on age, gender, race, national origin, or disability, or for filing a workers’ compensation claim, demanding proper wages or overtime pay, taking time off for medical reasons or to care for a family member, being a whistleblower, or for an act protected by law.
Tennessee has a law that requires employers to include in the employee’s final paycheck any unused vacation pay that has accrued and that the employee would have been entitled to use.
After employment terminates, employees may be eligible for benefits, such as:
- Unemployment benefits
- COBRA (very small companies are probably exempt)