Updated July 20, 2020:

TN Labor Laws

TN labor laws are legal protections to help employees and employers stay safe and above board. There are numerous labor laws in Tennessee that are either state or federally mandated and regulated.

Tennessee Minimum Wage

Employers in Tennessee must abide by the federally-mandated minimum wage because the state does not have a separate, higher minimum wage. Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. However, employees who earn tips as part of their regular pay structure can be paid a lower minimum wage, at $2.13 per hour. If employees do not make enough in tips to bring their pay to $7.25 per hour, their employer is required to make up the difference.

Prevailing Wage in Tennessee

According to the most recent data, listed in 2014, the Tennessee prevailing wage has a large range, from $12.89 to $26.23 per hour. The prevailing wage is the hourly wage paid to the majority of mechanics, laborers, and workers in regard to public works.

State-funded highway project rates are set each year by the Tennessee Prevailing Wage Commission. Highway projects that get federal funds have a prevailing wage requirement.

Overtime Laws in Tennessee

There are currently no laws addressing overtime pay in Tennessee. However, there are federal protections in place for employees who work overtime. Federal laws addressing overtime are regulated by the United States Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division.

Federal law regulates that anything more than 40 hours worked in a single workweek is subject to one and a half times the employee's normal pay rate for overtime pay. In general, exempt employees are not eligible for overtime compensation. In addition, employees working on a live-in or domestic basis are not required to receive overtime pay.

State law in Tennessee does state that employers are required to sign specific posters and information on the rights of employees. These posters give specific information regulated under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Tennessee professionals who make more than $455 per week are exempt from overtime laws in the state. In addition, on-call emergency workers generally don't receive overtime pay. Employers do not have to pay overtime wages to independent contractors.

Break and Meal Laws in Tennessee

Federal law does not require employers to offer breaks. However, if employees are offered short breaks during the day for rest, they must be paid for these break times. A short rest break is defined as a break ranging from five to 20 minutes.

The majority of employers in Tennessee are required to offer meal breaks to employees. These breaks do not need to be paid unless the employee has to work through it. Employers are not required to allow employees to leave the premises during their meal break, but employees must be relieved of all work duties during this time.

A meal break is generally required to last at least 30 minutes. This 30-minute break is required for employees working six hours in a row.

Certain employees, such as those who are employed in food or beverage positions and get tips have the right to waive their meal break. It is unlawful for an employer to coerce or require an employee to waive their meal break. Specific steps must be taken to have a meal break waived:

  • A written waiver policy must be posted in the building
  • The policy has to include a waiver form
  • The policy must also inform employees they have a right to their meal break unless it is waived
  • The policy needs to state how long the waiver lasts
  • The policy has to state how the waiver may be rescinded by the employee and/or employer
  • The employee requests the meal break waiver in writing
  • The employer consents to the written request

In addition to these breaks, both state and federal law requires employers to give breastfeeding mothers adequate breaks to express their breastmilk for the first year of the employee's baby's life.

Tennessee Severance Pay Laws

The state of Tennessee does not require employers to offer severance pay. Employers who offer this benefit must always comply with their employment contracts or established policy on severance pay.

Tennessee Child Labor Laws

Children in Tennessee are legally allowed to start working at the age of 14. At this age, they are limited to working up to three hours a day and up to 18 hours a week. They must be done with work no later than 7 p.m. during the school year. During the summer, these regulations are relaxed, allowing teenagers to work up to eight hours a day to a maximum of 40 hours per week, with an end time of 9 p.m.

There are no hour restrictions for employees ages 16 and 17. However, these employees cannot be required to work during normal school hours. They also cannot be required to work later than 10 p.m. on school nights. However, with parental permission, 16 and 17-year-olds can work up to three nights a week as late as midnight.

Tennessee Leave Laws

Employers in Tennessee are not required to offer employees paid or unpaid vacation time. They are also not required to offer paid sick leave.

Employers are required to abide by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This law allows eligible employees to have a total of up to 12 weeks per year of unpaid medical leave to care for themselves or a family member, or in the case of the adoption or birth of a child. While employees are on FMLA leave, employers are required to keep up their group health insurance benefits. In addition, employees' positions are to be reinstated when they return from leave.

On top of FMLA, Tennessee law allows employees to take up to an additional four months unpaid time off work for adoption, pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing. There are restrictions to this. The employee must have worked for the employer for the last 12 months. The employer has to also have at least 100 full-time employees to be subject to this law.

Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), employees have the right to take a leave of absence for military service, whether it be state or federal. It is illegal to refuse to hire or to fire employees because they are in the National Guard. Employees can't be retaliated against as a result of taking time off work for the required National Guard training and drills.

Employees who have a family member who was seriously injured during his or her military duty can take up to 26 weeks of unpaid time off work in a year for caregiving.

Employers are required to allow employees to have paid time off work if they are called for jury duty. However, employers can require a change in shift on the day before or during the jury duty. Allowing an employee up to three hours of paid time off work to vote in elections is part of Tennessee labor law.

Tennessee Right to Work

Union membership and other similar monthly payment memberships cannot be required by employers in Tennessee. Keep in mind that this is subject to change because right to work laws are extremely controversial and subject to challenges.

Tennessee At-Will Employment

Because Tennessee is an at-will employment state, employees can quit their job at any time for any reason. In addition, employers are legally allowed to fire, suspend, or hire employees at any time, for any reason, other than legally protected causes.

Federal law protects employees from several types of discrimination, including discrimination based on:

  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Race
  • Pregnancy status
  • National origin
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Genetic information

All employers who have 15 employees or more are subject to federal anti-discrimination laws. State law offers these protections to employees who work for a company with eight or more employees.

Harassment in the workplace is also illegal. This is defined as unwelcome and unwanted actions or statements based on protected classes such as disability and race. These unwelcome comments result in an offensive and hostile work environment.

Employees who report harassment or other legal violations to the proper authorities cannot be retaliated against.

Tennessee Labor Law Enforcement Agency

The Labor and Statistics Division of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development oversees and enforces child labor laws, prevailing wage, and wage regulation in the state.

Employees who feel they were discriminated against based on a protected trait can directly contact the Tennessee Commission on Human Rights at 615-741-5825. Complaints can also be filed online. Discrimination complaints can also be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at 1-800-669-4000 or online.

Tennessee Employment Law Penalties

Employers who violate any employment laws in Tennessee may be subject to civil or criminal penalties:

  • Employing children under 14 is a Class D felony, which can be punished with up to 12 years in prison and a fine of up to $125,000 for a corporation or $5,000 for an individual.
  • Misrepresenting wages in a new-hire contract is a Class C misdemeanor, with fines up to $50 and up to 30 days in jail.
  • Failing to pay wages is a Class B misdemeanor, getting up to 6 months in jail and up to a $500 fine. Additional civil penalties of $500-$1,000 per offense may be assessed.

Tennessee Workplace Injuries and Safety

Employers are required by the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) to provide a safe and healthy workplace. Working conditions must also be safe and healthy, and include the proper training and safety equipment depending on the industry.

All employees can request an inspection from OSHA if they feel there are safety violations or health concerns in their workplace. Employers are prohibited from seeking retaliation against employees who are concerned about hazardous or unsafe working conditions.

For the most part, employers in Tennessee are required to have worker's compensation insurance. This insurance helps cover costs for employees who become ill or injured on the job. Proper worker's compensation insurance covers part of the employee's normal pay, as well as covers necessary medical and vocational rehabilitation treatments.

Tennessee Unemployment Benefits and Insurance

Employees who are out of work through no fault of their own, such as those who were laid off, may be eligible to receive unemployment benefits. Tennessee employees are required to meet specific pay requirements to qualify for these benefits.

Eligible employees can receive up to a maximum of $275 per week for up to 26 weeks to help offset the financial hardship of losing a job. Keep in mind that employees are required to look for a new job during the time they are receiving unemployment.

Employees who received group health insurance through the company they worked for may be able to continue their insurance benefits after dissolving their relationship with the company. Those who choose to accept this insurance option are required to pay not only their portion of their insurance premium but the portion the company paid and an additional 2 percent for administrative fees.


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