The Tennessee Employment Law Guide

The state laws every business owner should know

Businesses must post all applicable state and federal labor law posters in the workplace.

Tennessee labor law posters to download

Federal labor law posters to download

Wages and Breaks

Minimum Wage
$7.25

Tennessee does not have an established state minimum wage rate, so the federal rate of $7.25 applies.

Tipped Min Wage
$2.13

There is no state tipped minimum wage rate either, so the federal rate of $2.13 applies.

Overtime
1.5X

Federal law requires employers to pay non-exempt employees an overtime rate of 1 ½  their regular rate for all hours worked in a workweek in excess of 40.

The federal overtime rule stipulates that the minimum salary requirement for administrative, professional, and executive exemptions is $684 per week, or $35,568 per year.

Meal Breaks
30 min per 6 hrs

Employers with more than 5 employees must provide a 30-minute meal break to employees scheduled to work more than 6 hours, unless the nature of the workplace environment provides ample opportunity to rest.

Lactation Breaks
Yes

Lactating employees must be provided with a private place that is close to their work area to express milk, and reasonable break time to do so.

Final Paychecks

Employers must pay employees who are terminated or who have quit all final wages no later than the next regular payday, or 21 days after the date of discharge, whichever comes last.

Child Labor

Minors 14 and 15 years of age

Minors 14 and 15 years of age are subject to the following restrictions:

When school is in session, they may work a maximum of 3 hours a day on school days, a maximum of 8 hours a day on non-school days, a maximum of 18 hours a week during school weeks. They may work between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. and not during school hours.

When school is not in session, they may work a maximum of 8 hours a day, no more than 40 hours a week. They may work between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. from June 1 to Labor Day.

Minors 16 and 17 years of age

While minors 16 and 17 years of age do not have as many time restrictions as younger minors, they may not work later than 10 p.m. if they have school the next day.

Leave Requirements

Sick days

Employers are not required to provide paid or unpaid sick leave but must comply with their own established policies if they choose to implement one.

Family and medical leave

Employers may be required to provide an employee unpaid leave in accordance with the Family and Medical Leave Act or other federal laws.

Bereavement leave

Employers are not required to provide bereavement leave.

Vacation time

Employers are not required to provide paid or unpaid vacation leave but must comply with their own established policies if they choose to implement one.

Employers may establish a policy that denies payment for accrued vacation time upon separation from employment.

Employers may also cap the amount of vacation time that can be accrued, and can implement a “use-it-or-lose-it” policy that requires employees to use their leave by a certain date.

Holiday leave

Private employers are not required to provide paid or unpaid time off for holidays.

Jury Duty

Employers with 5 or more employees are required to pay permanent employees for time spent on jury duty and are not allowed to punish the employee in any way.

If an employee is scheduled for a night shift or during the hours before the time court is normally held, the employee must be excused from work for the shift immediately preceding the employee’s first day of jury duty.

Voting time

Employers must give eligible employees (those who request the time off by 12 p.m. on the day prior to the vote and who do not have 3 hours of time to vote before or after their shift) up to 3 hours of paid time off to vote.

Volunteer Firefighters

Employers may not discharge an employee who is a volunteer firefighter because they take leave to respond to an emergency. The employee must continue to accrue vacation time, sick leave, or earned overtime accumulation during the leave.

If the employee assisted in firefighting for more than four hours, the employee is entitled to take the next scheduled workday within 12 hours of the response as a paid vacation day or sick day or, if they don’t have an available vacation or sick day, as a day off without pay.

The employer may require that the employee make a reasonable effort to provide notice of the need for leave if time permits. Afterward, the employer may require documentation confirming they were providing emergency services.

Witness leave

Employers in Tennessee are not required to provide employees with leave to appear as a witness.

Military Leave

The federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) is applicable to all employers in the United States.

Hiring, firing, and more

Discrimination

Federal law makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of: Race, Color, Age, Sex, Sexual orientation, Gender, Gender identity, Religion, National origin, Pregnancy, Genetic information, including family medical history, Physical or mental disability, Child or spousal support withholding, Military or veteran status, Citizenship and/or immigration status.

Additionally, the state of Tennessee prohibits employers with eight or more employees from discriminating based on the following: Use of an agricultural product not regulated by the alcoholic beverage commission that is not otherwise prohibited by law, off company premises and not during working hours.

Click here to read our blog on what acceptable and unacceptable questions to ask during an interview.

Termination

Tennessee is an employment-at-will state, which means that without a written employee contract, employees can be terminated for any reason at any time, provided that the reason is not discriminatory and that the employer is not retaliating against the employee for a rightful action.

For layoffs and workforce reductions, employers must provide 60 days’ written notice to affected employees (or their union officials if applicable), the chief elected official of local government, and Dislocated Worker Unit of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development before closing or relocating their business or conducting a mass layoff. The notice requirement is triggered when 50 or more workers are affected for at least three months. The notice must contain the following information:

The company’s name and address
The name and address of a contact person
The date of the closing or mass layoff
Whether the closing or layoff is permanent or temporary
The job titles of the positions to be eliminated
The number of affected workers
Whether bumping rights exist
The name of unions representing affected workers, if applicable
The name and address of the chief elected officer of each union representing affected workers, if applicable
Whether the entire plant will close

Record Keeping

Regarding employment and payroll data, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and others, you must:

For at least 3 years: keep payroll records, certificates, agreements, notices, collective bargaining agreements, employment contracts, and sales and purchase records. Also keep completed copies of each employee’s I-9 for three years after they are hired. If the employee works longer than three years, hold on to the form for at least one year after the employee leaves. 

For at least 2 years: Keep basic employment and earning records like timecards, wage-rate tables, shipping and billing records, and records of additions to or deductions from wages. Also keep the records that show why you may pay different wages to employees of different sexes, such as wage rates, job evaluations, seniority and merit systems, and collective bargaining agreements.

For at least 1 year: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says employers should keep all employment records for at least one year from the employee’s date of termination. 

Other record-keeping laws that may apply to you: 

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, you need to keep records of job-related injuries and illnesses for five years. But some records, like those covering toxic substance exposure, have to be kept for 30 years.

You must keep files of benefit plans and seniority and merit systems while they are in effect and for at least a year after they end. You must also retain summary descriptions and annual reports of benefits plans for six years.

If your company is covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, you must also retain relevant records of leaves, notices, policies, and more for three years. 

Additional laws that may apply to you

Drug and Alcohol Testing

Employers may test employees for drugs or alcohol. If their drug testing program meets specific requirements, they may be eligible for a discount under their workers’ compensation insurance policy. Employers of drivers that transport eight or more passengers and employers in childcare are required to test their employees.

Whistleblower Protection

Employers may not discharge an employee for reporting or refusing to participate in a violation of state law.

COBRA

COBRA is a federal law that allows many employees to continue their health insurance benefits after their employment ends. Because federal COBRA only applies to employers that have 20 or more employees, many states have adopted their own versions of the law, which are known as “mini-COBRAs.” Tennessee’s mini-COBRA allows employees to continue their coverage for up to three additional months or for up to nine months after a pregnancy. Each individual certification of coverage must contain a notice of the right to continue coverage. We recommend that employers inform their insurer of an employee’s triggering event as soon as it occurs.

Social Media

Employers may not: Request or require an employee or an applicant to disclose a password that allows access to the employee’s or applicant’s personal Internet account. Compel an employee or an applicant to add the employer or an employment agency to the employee’s or applicant’s list of contacts associated with a personal Internet account. Compel an employee or an applicant to access a personal Internet account in the presence of the employer in a manner that enables the employer to observe the contents of the employee’s or applicant’s personal Internet account. Take adverse action, fail to hire, or otherwise penalize an employee or applicant because of a failure to disclose information.

There is an exception to this law if the employer is conducting an investigation or requiring an employee to cooperate in an investigation if: There is specific information on the employee’s personal Internet account regarding compliance with applicable laws, regulatory requirements, or prohibitions against work-related employee misconduct. The employer has specific information about an unauthorized transfer of the employer’s proprietary information, confidential information, or financial data to an employee’s personal Internet account.

Compliance Calendar

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 Remember

This summary is not qualified legal advice. Laws are always subject to change, and they can vary from municipality to municipality. It’s up to you to make sure you’re compliant with all laws and statutes in your area. If you need more compliance help, we recommend consulting with a qualified lawyer, checking with your local government agencies, or signing up for Homebase to get help from our certified HR Pros. 

Additional Resources