Table of contents
- Wage and Hour Laws
- Employee Compensation and Benefits
- Workplace Rights and Protections
- Child Labor Laws
- Workplace Safety and Health
- Labor Union Regulations
- Employment Contracts and Severance
- Paystub Requirements
- Additional Laws That Might Apply to You
- Navigating Legal Issues and Resources
What’s new in 2023
Wage and Hour Laws
Tennessee doesn’t have a state minimum wage law.
The FLSA applies to most private employees with some exemptions. Employees exempt from the minimum wage requirements of the FLSA include:
- Executive, administrative, and professional employees who earn a minimum salary amount.
- Outside sales employees.
- Certafarm workersers.
- Some student workers.
- Tipped employees.
Employers covered by the FLSA must display a federal minimum wage notice in their workplace.
Tipped Minimum Wage
Tennessee doesn’t have a tipped minimum wage law at the state level.
Employers can pay tipped employees less than the minimum wage (no less than $2.13 an hour) as long as their wages and tips equal the minimum wage ($7.25 an hour). Tipped employees are those who earn a minimum of $30 a month in tips.
Tip pooling is allowed in Tennessee as long as employees receive advance notice of the policy.
Tennessee doesn’t have any state-level overtime laws, so the requirements under the FLSA apply.
The FLSA requires employers to pay non-exempt employees 1.5 times their hourly rate for any hour they work over 40 hours a week.
Employees exempt from overtime under the FLSA include:
- Executive, administrative, and professional employees who earn a minimum salary amount.
- Outside sales employees.
- Certain commissioned employees.
- Domestic workers who live in their employer’s residence.
Meal and Rest Breaks
Tennessee employers must give employees a 30-minute meal break or rest period for every 6 consecutive hours they work.
This break doesn’t have to be paid and can’t be before or during the first hour of an employee’s shift.
Employers don’t have to provide these breaks if the nature of the business allows enough time for employees to take breaks or rests.
Payday Frequency and Method
Employers in Tennessee must pay employees at least once a month.
Employers who pay employees monthly must issue payments no later than the 5th day of the month following the one in which the employees earned their wages.
Employers who pay their employees 2 or more times a month must follow these rules:
- Any wages earned by the 1st day of the month must be paid no later than the 20th day of the following month.
- Any wages earned before the 16th day of the month must be paid no later than the 5th day of the following month.
Tennessee employers must set regular paydays. They also must post at least 2 notices in the workplace advising employees of their regular paydays.
Employees can be paid by:
- Electronic bank transfer.
- Credit to a prepaid debit card.
The final option is allowed only if:
- Employees are also given the choice to receive their pay via electronic bank transfer.
- Employees can make at least 1 withdrawal or transfer each pay period without cost.
Wage Deductions and Garnishments
Employees must sign a written agreement before employers can deduct wages from their pay. This includes deductions for uniforms, equipment, and till shortages.
Employers can garnish employees’ wages under a money judgment or for payment of outstanding taxes, student loans, alimony, or child support. The limits on wage garnishments in Tennessee largely align with those at the federal level, with some additional protections.
In Tennessee, a creditor with a money judgment can garnish either 25% of the debtor’s disposable weekly income or 30 times the federal minimum wage, whichever is less.
Debtors with children can protect an extra $2.50 weekly for each dependent child under 16.
Other garnishment limits include the following:
- Child support is limited to 50% of a debtor’s disposable earnings (60% if they don’t currently support a spouse or child not related to the child support order).
- Federal student loans are limited to up to 15% of a debtor’s pay.
Garnishments for federal taxes are calculated based on a debtor’s specific circumstances.
Federal law prohibits Tennessee employers from terminating an employee for 1 wage garnishment but doesn’t protect employees with additional garnishments.
Employers must keep employee wage and payroll records on their premises and make them available to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Under the FLSA, employers must keep records for non-exempt employees. Records must include:
- Hours worked.
- When the workweek starts.
- Pay rate.
- Payment method.
- Overtime hours.
- Any pay deductions.
- Pay per pay period.
- Date of pay and pay period.
Tennessee employers must report all new hires to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development within 20 days of their hire date. Failure to do so can result in fines.
Employee Compensation and Benefits
Final Paycheck Laws
Employees whose employment is voluntarily or involuntarily terminated must be paid their full wages by the next regular payday or 21 days after they leave, whichever is later.
Employers can withhold final paychecks only until an employee returns uniforms or equipment if the employee previously signed a policy or agreement allowing the employer to do so.
Final paychecks must include any accrued, unused vacation pay or other leave if a company policy or employment agreement requires this.
Reporting Time Pay
Tennessee has no reporting time pay laws that require employers to pay employees for attending a shift but not working any or all of the shift. Employers must pay employees for the hours they work.
Employee Scheduling Laws
There are no predictive scheduling laws in Tennessee.
State law prohibits local governments from introducing any laws that place restrictions or requirements on employers concerning scheduling.
Under the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Law, the following employers must take out workers’ compensation insurance:
- Employers in the construction industry or trades with at least 1 employee.
- Employers in the coal mining industry with at least 1 employee.
- Any employer with 5 or more employees.
Injured workers may receive the following workers’ compensation benefits:
- Cost of medical care.
- Travel expenses.
- Temporary or permanent disability benefits.
- Death benefit.
Employees injured at work are generally required to report their injury to their employer within 15 calendar days from when they become aware or should have become aware of their work-related injury. Preferably, employees will report workplace injuries in writing.
Once employers are notified of an injury, they must give the employee a Choice of Physicians form (Form C-42) and report the injury to their insurer within 24 hours.
Employers can’t terminate an employee for reporting a workplace injury. Employers must also display a Workers’ Compensation notice, informing employees of their rights.
Tennessee’s Bureau of Workers’ Compensation is responsible for workers’ compensation. The Mediation and Ombudsman Services of Tennessee (MOST) program helps unrepresented employees and employers involved in workers’ compensation disputes where a compensation claim is denied. It also offers a dispute resolution process.
To initiate the dispute resolution process, employees must file a Petition for Benefit Determination within 12 months of their injury or when they last received benefits for the injury, whichever is later.
Tennessee employers who are required to pay unemployment insurance tax include:
- Employers liable under the Federal Unemployment Tax Act with at least 1 employee in Tennessee.
- Employers who pay more than $1,500 gross wages in a calendar quarter or have at least 1 employee across any 20 weeks of the year, regardless of wages paid.
- Non-profit organizations with 4 or more employees across any 20 weeks of the year.
- Employers who volunteer to pay unemployment tax.
- Employers who paid cash wages of $1,000 or more in any calendar quarter for domestic services.
- Agricultural employers with 10 or more employees across any 20 weeks of the year or who pay $20,000 or more in gross wages in a calendar quarter.
All Tennessee employers must file a Report to Determine Status, Application for Employer Number with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. This form will determine whether an employer is liable for unemployment insurance.
Employers’ unemployment insurance premiums provide funds for workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
To qualify for unemployment benefits, workers must:
- Have lost their job through no fault of their own
- Be able, available, and looking for work
- Meet a minimum earnings requirement during their base period
To calculate minimum earnings, Tennessee looks at the earliest 4 of the 5 calendar quarters before a worker files their claim. This is known as their base period.
Workers must have earned an average of at least $780.01 in their 2 highest-earning quarters. They also must have earned over $900 or 6 times the weekly benefit amount in their highest-earning quarter.
Workers are generally ineligible for unemployment benefits when they:
- Quit a job without good reason.
- Were terminated for misconduct.
- Don’t try to find other employment.
To apply for unemployment benefits, workers can file an application via the Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s website, phone, fax, or mail.
Eligible workers may receive up to $275 a week in unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks a year.
Workplace Rights and Protections
Discrimination and Harassment
Both federal and state human rights laws apply to Tennessee employers.
Employers can’t discriminate against someone based on their:
- Age (over 40 years old).
- National origin.
- Disability (unless the disability affects job performance).
Tennessee employers can’t pay employees a different salary or wage based on sex. Wage differences can be justified only on other factors unrelated to sex—for example, seniority or a merit system.
Under Tennessee law, policies that prevent employees from wearing their hair in locs, braids, twists, or another style that is part of their cultural identification are discriminatory. There are limited safety exceptions to this.
Employees who feel they’ve been discriminated against can file a complaint with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission. They must do so within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory act.
Alternatively, an employee may file a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Complaints outside the Human Rights Commission’s scope can also be transferred to the EEOC.
In addition, employers must display discrimination in employment posters in the workplace.
🧠 Did You Know?
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|✔ Family and Medical Leave
|The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to eligible Tennessee employers. This is generally those who employ at least 50 people for at least 20 weeks per year.
Under the FMLA, employers must provide employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year to:Deal with a serious health condition (their own or a family member’s).Bond with a new child.Support a family member’s military service.Care for a family member injured during active military duty.
To qualify for FMLA leave, employees must have worked for the company for at least 12 months and 1,250 hours.
Tennessee doesn’t have a state-level family and medical leave law. However, it does have a Maternity Leave Act.
Tennessee doesn’t have its own family and medical leave law.
|X Paid Sick Leave
|Tennessee doesn’t require private employers to provide employees with sick leave.
However, many employers choose to do so. Where they do, the employment contract, employer policy, or bargaining agreement terms apply.
Employers who offer paid sick leave aren’t required to pay employees any accrued leave when the employee leaves the company.
|X Paid Family Leave
|Tennessee doesn’t have a state-level paid family leave law.
Employers may offer it to employees. Where they do, they should comply with the relevant employment contract, employer policy, or bargaining agreement terms.
|✔ Pregnancy and Parental Leave
|In Tennessee, employers with 100 or more employees must give employees who have worked for them full-time for a minimum of 12 consecutive months up to 4 months leave for pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, or adopting a child.
This leave doesn’t have to be paid.
If an employee gives their employer at least 3 months’ notice of their intention to take this leave, they must be able to return to the same or an equivalent position.
If an employee can’t provide 3 months’ notice due to a medical emergency or short notice of adoption, their position is still protected.
This leave must run concurrently with any leave under the federal FMLA.
|X Vacation and Personal Leave
|Private employers in Tennessee aren’t required by law to provide employees with vacation or personal leave.
However, many choose to do so. Where an employer does provide vacation or personal leave, they must follow the relevant terms of the employment contract, internal leave policy, and bargaining agreement.
Where employers offer employees paid vacation leave, they:Aren’t required to pay employees any accrued unused leave on termination of their employment (unless their leave policy or the employment contract says otherwise).Can cap leave accruals.Can apply a “use it or lose it policy” preventing employees from carrying over accrued unused leave.
|X Holiday Leave
|Private employers in Tennessee aren’t required to provide employees with holiday leave. However, they may choose to do so.
Military, Jury Duty, and Other Mandatory Leave
|The federal Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) applies to Tennessee employers.
Under USERRA, employers must reinstate employees returning from military service to the same position they would have had if not for their military service absence.
Employees must meet specific criteria to be eligible for reemployment rights under USERRA.
|Jury Duty Leave
|Tennessee employers with 5 or more employees must give employees paid jury duty leave.
This doesn’t apply to temporary employees who have been with the organization for less than 6 months.
If employees receive compensation for performing jury duty service, employers can deduct this amount from the wages paid to the employees.
Employers can’t terminate or discriminate against employees for taking jury duty leave.
|Tennessee employers must give employees up to 3 hours of paid leave to vote if employees don’t have 3 hours before or after their shift during which the polls are open.
Employees must request voting leave by midday the day before an election.
|Volunteer Firefighter Leave
|Employers can’t terminate employees who are late to or absent from work because they were responding to an emergency as a volunteer firefighter.
Employees in this situation should make reasonable efforts to let their employer know they will be late or absent.
Employees involved in firefighting for over 4 hours must be allowed to take the following workday (scheduled in the following 12 hours) as paid vacation, sick leave, or unpaid leave.
|Employers must give all military veteran employees leave on November 11th (Veterans’ Day). This leave doesn’t have to be paid.
To access this leave, employees must provide the employer with 1 month’s written notice of their intention to take leave, along with proof of their veteran status.
Child Labor Laws
Tennessee employers can’t employ anyone under 14.
There are some limited exceptions to this, including where:
- The employer is the child’s parent or guardian, and the work is non-hazardous.
- The job involves agricultural work.
- The job involves the sale or distribution of newsletters.
- The minor is self-employed.
- The minor is a musician or entertainer.
The employment of minors aged 14 or 15 can’t interfere with their schooling, health, or well-being.
When hiring minors, employers must obtain proof of age—for example, a birth certificate or passport. They must also post a child labor law poster in the workplace.
|14- and 15-year-olds
|16- and 17-year-olds
|When school is in session
|Can’t work:During school hours.More than 3 hours on school days or 18 hours during a school week.
|Can’t work when they’re required to be in class.
|When school isn’t in session
|Can’t work:More than 8 hours on non-school days.More than 40 hours during a non-school week.
|Limit on hours
|Can’t work:Between 7 pm and 7 am before a school day.Anytime between 9 pm and 6 am.
|Can’t work between 10 pm and 6 am on evenings before a school day unless their parent or guardian provides signed consent.
This consent allows them to work between 10 pm and 12 am on nights before a school day, as long as evening work is limited to 3 times a week.
|Limit on types of work
|Tennessee law prohibits minors from working in a range of hazardous occupations, including:In the manufacturing or storage of explosives.Coal mining.Sawmills.In the operation of hazardous power-driven machines.Slaughtering or meatpacking.Youth peddling.Where the minor is required to take orders or serve alcohol.
Full list of prohibited occupations.
Workplace Safety and Health
Tennessee’s Occupational Safety and Health Act adopts many federal standards requiring employers to protect employees’ safety and health.
- Provide a hazard-free workplace.
- Comply with relevant occupational safety and health standards and regulations.
- Allow the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to inspect their workplace and assist them in doing so.
- Promptly report any workplace accident that results in an employee’s death or injury that prevents the employee from returning to work within 7 days. They must file reports to the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation within 14 days of the accident.
- Report any workplace accident that results in an employee being unable to attend work for 7 days or less to the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation no later than the 15th day of the following month.
In turn, employees must comply with all occupational safety and health rules, standards, regulations, and orders.
Tennessee’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA) can conduct workplace inspections and investigate safety complaints concerning a workplace. Employers can’t retaliate against an employee for making a complaint to TOSHA.
Labor Union Regulations
Tennessee is a right-to-work state, meaning employees can choose whether or not they want to join a union. Employers can’t require employees to join or not join a union.
Similarly, employers can’t deny someone employment based on their payment or non-payment of union fees.
Employment Contracts and Severance
Employment Contract Laws
Tennessee is an at-will employment state. This means an employer or employee can terminate an employment contract at any time without reason.
However, there are limits to this general principle. Employers can’t terminate employees for illegal reasons—for example, based on protected characteristics like race, sex, or age.
The specific terms of an employment contract can also replace the presumption of at-will employment. Collective bargaining agreements may also define the terms of an employment relationship.
Employment contracts are typically written—although they can be oral or implied. Contracts address aspects of the employment relationship such as wages, fringe benefits, severance, and grounds for termination. They may be fixed-term or ongoing.
Non-compete and non-solicitation agreements are generally not enforceable in Tennessee. Exceptions include instances where they’re necessary due to a protectable business interest, like a trade secret, or when they’re reasonable, including in time and geographic area.
There are no laws in Tennessee requiring employers to offer severance pay.
Severance pay is a matter for employees and employers to agree on and must comply with any relevant terms of an employment contract, employer’s policies, and collective bargaining agreement.
Tennessee has no laws requiring employers to provide employees with pay stubs or statements. Employers can choose to provide electronic pay stubs to employees.
Additional Laws That Might Apply to You
|Lawful Employment Act
|Tennessee employers must only hire workers who are legally authorized to work in the US.
As of January 1, 2023, any employer with 35 or more full-time employees must use the E-Verify system to verify employees’ status.
Employers with fewer than 35 full-time employees can choose to use the E-Verify system or collect and maintain employee identity records.
Failing to register with E-Verify as required or failing to verify an employee can result in a $500 fine.
|Under Tennessee law, employers with at least 1 employee must provide reasonable breaks to employees who need to express for their child.
This break doesn’t have to be paid and should run concurrently with any other break time offered to the employee, if possible. The only exception to this is where offering such a break would disrupt business operations.
The employer should provide a private location, other than a bathroom, where employees can take these breaks.
|Employee Online Privacy
|The Employee Online Privacy Act prohibits employers from asking employees to provide information regarding their personal internet accounts. This includes passwords and contact lists.
The Act also prohibits employers from taking adverse action against employees who refuse to provide this information.
|The federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) maintains employees’ health insurance if they lose their job or have their hours cut.
However, this federal law applies only to employers with 20 or more employees. Tennessee has a mini-COBRA law that applies to other employers. Eligible employees are entitled to up to 3 months’ continuation of their insurance coverage.
|Employers can’t terminate an employee for refusing to participate in an illegal activity or for reporting an illegal activity.
|Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
|Employers with 15 or more employees must make reasonable accommodations for medical needs related to pregnancy and childbirth. The only exception is when doing so would create an undue hardship on the employer.
COVID-19 Related Laws and Regulations
Tennessee’s COVID statute remains in place. The statute outlines a range of COVID-19-related workplace rules, including that:
- Private employers can’t require an employee to provide proof of vaccination if the individual objects to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
- Employees who have been discharged after refusing the vaccination are entitled to unemployment benefits.
Navigating Legal Issues and Resources
To learn more about your obligations as an employer or your rights as an employee under labor laws in Tennessee, visit the Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s website.
The Department includes the:
- Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
- Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.
- Workplace Regulations and Compliance Division.
If you’re an employee and can’t afford legal representation or advice for your employment issue, you may find the following resources helpful:
- TN Free Legal Answers, a virtual legal advice clinic run by the American Bar Association.
- Help4TN, a website with free legal resources on several employment law topics— including unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation, and employee rights.
Understanding and navigating labor laws in Tennessee is complex. Federal, state, and local laws and regulations can apply and regularly change. For these reasons, you must seek professional legal advice about your situation.
The information presented on this website about labor laws in Tennessee is intended to be a summary for informational purposes only. However, laws and regulations regularly change and may vary depending on individual circumstances. While we have made every effort to ensure the information provided is up-to-date and reliable, we cannot guarantee its completeness, accuracy, or applicability to your specific situation. Therefore, we strongly recommend that readers seek guidance from their legal department or a qualified attorney to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations. Please note that we cannot be held liable for any actions taken or not taken based on the information presented on this website.