Tennessee Labor Laws

Tennessee labor laws provide that the minimum wage in the State of Tennessee is $7.25 an hour. If employees receive tips as part of their compensation, employers can pay the employee a lower minimum wage so long as the employee makes up for the difference in tips. A typical position in which an employee receives tip is a waiter/waitress position in a restaurant.

With regard to overtime payment, employers must pay non-exempt employees 1.5 times more than the hourly rate for those working more than 40 hours/week. However, not all employees are eligible for overtime pay, particularly exempt employees, i.e. those receiving a yearly salary.

Some types of employees exempt from the overtime rules include:

  • Farm employees
  • Feed store employees
  • Domestic works
  • Government employees
  • Volunteer employees
  • Newspaper vendors
  • Salespersons
  • Carriers under Part I of the Interstate Commerce Act
  • Part-time employees working less than 25 hours/week
  • Employees under the age of 18 who are high-school or vocational students
  • Employees under the age of 22 who are still currently in high school, college, or a vocational training program
  • Employees who are reserve force deputy sheriffs
  • Certain emergency workers
  • On-call employees
  • Independent contractors

In the instance that an employer may be seen to be violating an employee's legal rights, the employee must speak to an experienced Tennessee employment lawyer. It is highly advised to consult a lawyer to help figure out whether an employee has legal claims against the employer and what's the best way to pursue the unresolved issues and conflicts.

Breaks Throughout the Day

Tennessee labor laws require employers to provide their employees with a 30-minute break for six or more consecutive hours worked. The exception to this rule would be positions in which employees are in a position that provides opportunities to take several breaks throughout the day. Generally, breaks under 20 minutes must be paid. Note that employees operating in the restaurant industry can waive their right to a meal break to ensure they receive as much in tips as they can. However, in order to waive their right to a meal break, a form much be filled out in which the employee agrees and signs indicating his or her full understanding of the waiver.

Extended Time Off

The State of Tennessee has several provisions on different types of leave, including vacation, sick time, holidays, jury duty, and bereavement.

Vacation days. Tennessee labor laws do not require employers to give employees vacation benefits, paid or unpaid. If such vacation days are provided to employees, this information must be stated in the company’s policy, including on the company’s internal employee website, employee handbook, and employees’ contracts. However, if an employee leaves the company, it is up to the employer to determine whether or not to pay the employee for unused vacation days.

Sick days. While Tennessee employers can choose whether to provide sick leave benefits to their employees, they may be required to provide unpaid sick leave if the conditions fall under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This federal law provides that employers with at least 50 employees provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off to employees who qualify. Such qualifications can include a serious medical condition of the employee or an immediate family member, a birth/adoption of a child, and other few qualifying circumstances. Such leave cannot affect the employee’s position with the company.

Jury duty. Tennessee labor laws require employers to allow employees time off for jury duty; however, paid time off is not required, and employees may be forced to use vacation or sick days for such time off.

Tennessee is a “right to work” state. Therefore, people who may otherwise be required to participate in a union are not required to do so in Tennessee. Tennessee is also an “employment at will” state, which means that employers have the legal right to hire, fire, or suspend employees for any reason or no reason. In turn, employees have a right to resign without providing a reason or prior notice. However, keep in mind that some employers will indicate in employment contracts that a two-week, one month, or even a three-months notice of resignation is required depending on the industry in which the company operates as well as the employee’s seniority level.

According to Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers cannot discriminate based on race, sex, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation, pregnancy, or disability.  This law also covers harassment, inclusive of sexual, disability, ethnicity, and any other type of harassment against one or more employees. Furthermore, if an employee makes a formal complaint against the company or becomes a whistleblower, retaliation on the part of the employer against the employee is illegal under the law.

Workplace Injuries

Tennessee workplace injuries are also covered by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). This federal law requires that employers provide employees with a safe working environment, including training on using safety equipment and gear, in an effort to prevent workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. Employees who suspect a violation of the law can reach out to OSHA requesting that an OSHA inspector conduct an inspection. Such a complaint made by an employee cannot be met with retaliation on behalf of the employer. Most employers are also required to carry worker’s compensation insurance, which will protect employees in the event that they suffer a workplace injury or illness. Such insurance will pay an injured employee with a percentage of his or her usual job earnings while also paying for necessary medical treatment and other rehabilitation treatment.

Tennessee Labor Law Violations

  • Employing a child under the age of 14 is a Class D felony punishable by 2-12 years in prison and a fine not more than $5,000 for an individual or $125,000 for a business. Note that 14-year-olds can only work three hours/day or 18 hours/work and cannot work later than 7 p.m. during the school year or 9 p.m. when school is out. However, when the child reaches 16 or 17, there are no additional hour restrictions. But children this age cannot be required to work during school hours or after 10 p.m. on school nights unless authorized by the parents. If the parents allow, the child can work until midnight up to three nights/week.
  • An employer who falsifies wages for a new employee will be guilty of a Class C misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a maximum $50 fine.
  • An employer who fails to pay wages to employees is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a maximum $500 fine. A civil penalty of $500 to $1,000 can be incurred for each offense.

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