Tennessee Labor Laws: A Complete Guide to Wages, Breaks, Overtime, and More (2024)

In this article, we’ll dive deep into Tennessee’s labor laws, with details on all the important aspects of the state’s regulations on your employees.
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Navigating labor laws is an essential – but often overlooked – aspect of running any business in the United States. In Tennessee as in other U.S. states, understanding the interplay between state-specific regulations and federal laws can help ensure a fair, legal, and safe working environment for both employers and employees.

This extensive guide aims to provide a thorough overview of Tennessee labor laws, covering various crucial topics from hiring practices and wage requirements to employee rights and workplace safety.

Whether you’re an employer looking to comply with state regulations, an employee seeking to understand your rights, or an HR professional aiming to enforce lawful practices, this article will provide a comprehensive resource on virtually every commonly-encountered labor law scenario in Tennessee.

We’ll provide you with actionable insights, essential information, and practical guidance to navigate the legal landscape of employment in the Volunteer State, all in straightforward language with straightforward answers to what is often a highly technical and not user-friendly experience for many employers and business leaders.

Let’s dive in!

Meals and Breaks in Tennessee

Most Tennessee employers must provide meal breaks, as well as certain other types of breaks:

Meal and Break Laws in TN

Meal Breaks

30 min. for every 6 hours worked.

Lactation Breaks

Required for baby’s first year.

Leave and Paid Time Off (PTO) in Tennessee

Tennessee has some laws governing the provision of leave and paid time off for employees in the state, but employers must abide by federal leave regulations where they exist, but Tennessee laws do not.

Break or Leave Type in TN

TN Sick Days

No requirements.

TN Vacation Time

No requirements.

TN Holiday Leave

No requirements.

TN Family and Medical Leave

Unpaid leave permitted (up to 12 weeks) per U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act.

TN Bereavement Leave

No requirements.

TN Military Leave

Employees may not be fired for serving in the National Guard or for taking part in mandatory training.

TN Firefighter Leave

Volunteer firefighters may not be fired for responding to emergencies.

Firefighting for 4+ hours entitles an employee to take the following workday off with pay (if available).

TN Voting Leave

Employees requesting time off by noon on the previous day may receive up to 3 hours of paid time off to vote.

TN Jury Duty Leave

Permanent employees must be paid for time spent on jury duty and may not be punished for participating.

TN Witness Leave

No requirements.

Overtime Regulations in Tennessee

Tennessee does not have any laws for overtime pay, which means it abides by the federal laws governing overtime.

Workers who put in more than 40 hours in a single workweek are entitled to 1.5X their normal pay rate for all hours worked over the 40-hour limit.

Certain kinds of employees are not eligible for overtime pay. These employees include:

Wages and Benefits in Tennessee

Tennessee does not have an established minimum wage or a tipped employee minimum wage, which means it abides by federal minimums:

Wage Type in TN

TN Minimum Wage

$7.25 /hr.

TN Tipped Minimum Wage

$2.13 /hr.

However, Tennessee does have an equal pay law. The Tennessee Code Annotated Section 50-2-202 specifies that employers may not pay men and women differently based on their sex.

Tennessee employers must compensate employees at least once a month. Monthly wage payments must be made by the 5th of the month for all earnings accrued for the previous month.

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Wage or Payroll Deductions

Employers in Tennessee are generally not allowed to deduct expenses from employee paychecks without the employee’s written authorization. There are three primary exceptions to the deduction rule:

Prevailing Wages in Tennessee

Tennessee’s prevailing wage rates are set for state highway construction projects, and cover all job types expected to work on these projects.

For 2023, Tennessee’s prevailing wages range from a low of $17.23 an hour for farm tractor operators to a high of $38.56 an hour for drill operators.

Tennessee’s Department of Labor maintains a dedicated Prevailing Wage Act website where you can check current-year prevailing wage rates.

Hiring Practices in Tennessee

Tennessee is an at-will employment state, which means that employers may hire or fire any employee for any reason – and employees may also leave their jobs for any reason.

This regulation is subject to state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

Tennessee Anti-Discrimination Laws

Employers may not use the following criteria to make either hiring or firing decisions:

Questions You Can’t Ask When Hiring in Tennessee

Tennessee has prohibitions against asking certain questions during the hiring process.

Senate Bill 2440 prescribes a Ban the Box law for Tennessee employers, which means they can’t ask about applicants’ criminal histories during the initial application process. Employers may still conduct background checks, but only after the hiring process has advanced to later stages of consideration.

However, neither Tennessee nor any of its major cities prohibit employers from asking applicants about their salary histories.

Tennessee Pre-Hire Screening

Tennessee employers may ask job applicants to undergo a medical or physical examination before hiring, as long as it’s directly relevant to their job responsibilities. This is meant to determine if the candidate is physically capable of performing the position’s core tasks, either with or without reasonable accommodations.

Most pre-hire screening practices involve drug testing, which is controlled by Tennessee’s drug-free workplace program and is covered in the Health and Safety section below.

However, employers must abide by the Genetic Information Discrimination Act of 2008, which prohibits employers from accessing an individual’s genetic information or family medical history. The focus should remain strictly on the applicant’s ability to perform the job at hand.

New Hire Reporting and E-Verify

All employers with 35 or more employees must use the Tennessee E-Verify employment verification process, which ensures all workers are legally permitted to work in Tennessee (or in any other state).

Employers in Tennessee must also report all new hires to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development within 20 days of their hiring date. The Department maintains an employer-focused website for this purpose.

You can report new hires to Tennessee’s Department of Labor through the state’s dedicated new-hire reporting portal.

Employer Reporting Requirements in Tennessee

Tennessee employers must notify employees of certain rights and facts regarding their employment, and must also retain certain information to comply with state and federal reporting and recordkeeping mandates:

Required Postings and Notifications

Employees must be notified of their wage rate before starting work.

Wages may not be misrepresented to employees.

Employers must maintain at least 2 conspicuous notices regarding pay dates.

Employers must also maintain the following employment law posters:

Recordkeeping Requirements in Tennessee

Tennessee does not have any state-level recordkeeping requirements beyond those mandated by federal regulations.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to maintain various employment records for varying lengths of time. Here are the requirements by time frame:

Must keep for at least one year

Must keep for at least two years

Must keep for at least three years

Must keep for at least five years

Must keep for at least six years

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Health and Safety Standards in Tennessee

Drug-Free Workplace

Tennessee’s Drug-Free Workplace Program is an optional program. If employers choose to join the program, they must meet certain requirements to get a credit against the premiums on their workers’ compensation insurance policies.

Compliance typically requires candidates submit to pre-employment drug and alcohol screenings, and may also require current employees be tested for drugs and alcohol as a condition of continued employment.

Anyone who fails these screenings must either be disqualified from being hired (if a candidate) or fired (if an active employee). Positive tests as a result of medications prescribed within the six months prior to the test are exempt from termination.

Smoke-Free Workplace

Tennessee’s 2007 Non-Smoker Protection Act bans smoking in most enclosed public places, including offices or other places of employment. “No Smoking” signs must be posted to ensure compliance.

Weapons in the Workplace

Employers have the legal right to ban weapons in any buildings they own, manage, operated, or otherwise control. This ban applies to everyone – employee or otherwise – who may enter these buildings, regardless of whether or not they have a permit to carry weapons. A notice banning weapons must be posted somewhere prominent near the entrance to the building to ensure legal compliance.

However, anyone with a legal right to carry a firearm may legally keep such weapons out of sight and secured in their vehicles, even if the vehicle is on a company parking lot.

Child Labor Laws in Tennessee

Tennessee allows children as young as 14 and 15 to work for pay, but limits them to a maximum of three hours of work a day, 18 hours of work a week, which must be done no later than 7 p.m. during the school year.

Over the summer, children 14 or older can work up to eight hours a day or 40 hours a week and may work until 9 p.m.

Children aged 16 and 17 don’t have any restrictions on the total time they can work, but employers can’t force their under-18 employees to work during normal school hours or after 10 p.m. on school days.

Employee Termination and Resignation in Tennessee

Tennessee follows various laws on employee termination or resignation, depending on the circumstances surrounding the employee’s separation from their job.

Final Paychecks

Employees who have quit or been terminated must receive all final outstanding wages by the next regularly scheduled payday, or within 21 days of their separation – whichever comes later.

Tennessee does not have any laws governing severance pay. Any severance benefits offered to laid-off employees must be offered in compliance with any written severance agreements signed by employee and employer, or otherwise governed by existing internal company policies and procedures.

At-Will Employment

As an at-will employment state, Tennessee employers may terminate employees at any time, for any reason, so long as the reason isn’t discriminatory or in retaliation for any lawful action, such as whistleblowing or reporting coworker harassment.

An employee with an active employment contract is not considered an “at-will” employee, and termination of these employees must follow any terms set out in their contracts to ensure the employee can make no legitimate legal claims about the cause of their dismissal.

All Tennessee employers with at least eight employees must abide by state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

Mass Layoffs

There are two laws governing mass layoffs in Tennessee:

The Tennessee Plant Closings and Reduction in Operations Act covers Tennessee employers with between 50 and 99 employees.

The federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN Act) covers employers with 100 or more employees.

One or the other law will control the situation when any employer with over 50 employees lays off at least 50 employees in a three-month (90-day) period, depending on the total employees on payroll when layoffs begin. To force a notice requirement under WARN, the company laying off employees must either:

Details on the required notices, and other legal requirements around mass layoffs in Tennessee – and instructions on how to file WARN notices – can be found on the Tennessee Department of Labor website.

Unemployment Benefits in Tennessee

Employees who are not at fault for losing their jobs – those let go without “fault” – may claim unemployment benefits if they’re actively looking for a new job.

To qualify for unemployment benefits, employees must have made an average of $780.01 in the two calendar quarters (three-month periods) out of the most recent five – excluding the quarter when they were let go. The second-highest-earning quarter must also have reported earnings of over $900, or six times the expected weekly unemployment benefit payment, for employees to qualify.

Unemployment in Tennessee pays a maximum of $275 per week for a maximum of 26 weeks in a year.

Employees are not eligible for unemployment if they:

Penalties for Noncompliance in Tennessee

Penalties for not following labor laws in Tennessee may be assessed by either federal or state agencies, depending on which law controls any given situation.

The Bottom Line on Tennessee Labor Laws

Tennessee is governed by many labor laws at the state and federal level, with additional laws potentially applying in larger Tennessee municipalities. It’s important to know what applies, how to remain compliant, and – especially in the complicated world of moden employment law – how to manage your legal responsibilities in a streamlined, efficient, and cost-effective way.

For employers and HR professionals, staying up-to-date with the latest changes in labor laws is crucial. Consider investing in training, resources, or legal counsel to ensure that you are always on the right side of the law. Don’t forget the value of clear communication with your employees, ensuring that they are aware of their rights and responsibilities.

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Workyard’s intuitive scheduling dashboard makes it easy to direct your workforce to the jobs you need done, based on their skill sets, their locations, their availability, and (of course) their weekly time worked – so you can avoid unnecessary overtime payments and reduce reimbursible travel expenses.

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