Tennessee Wage and Hour Laws

Wage and hour laws regulate the minimum wage, employee leave, overtime pay, meals, and breaks employers must provide their employees. Tennessee, like all states, has to follow federal labor laws that dictate a minimum amount of support for employees, such as the federal minimum wage. However, Tennessee doesn't have to provide more protections, nor does it.

Tennessee's wage and working hour laws are outlined in the table below.

Code Sections

Tennessee Code Title 50: Employer and Employee

Minimum Wage

$7.25 (2014). This is the federal minimum wage; Tennessee doesn't provide a separate, higher minimum wage as some states do.

Prevailing Wage

Ranges from $12.89 to $26.23 per hour in 2014. The Tennessee Prevailing Wage Commission sets the rate of state-funded highway construction projects each year based on an annual survey of each industry and appropriate rates. Previously other state and municipalities also had to pay the prevailing wage for construction projects, but as of January 1, 2014 that law's been rescinded. Now only highway projects that receive federal highway funds have this prevailing wage requirement.

Overtime

Although Tennessee law doesn't address overtime, federal law does so it applies to eligible employees. According to federal law, employees must get overtime pay of at least 1.5 times the employee's regular rate of pay if they work more than 40 hours per week (but not 8 hours per day).

Child Labor Laws

Children can work starting at 14 years old, but until they are 16, they can only work 3 hours per day, 18 hours per week, and no later than 7 pm during the school year or 8 hours per day, 40 hours per week, and no later than 9 pm when school is out. At 16 or 17 there are no hours restrictions, but they can't be required to work during school hours or after 10 pm on school nights, unless their parent signs a permission to work until midnight up to 3 nights per week.

Meals & Breaks

Employees must be given a 30-minute unpaid break when schedule to work 6 hours or more, according to state law. Federal and state law also requires nursing mothers to be given breaks for the first year after their baby is born to express breast milk at work .

Leave

Employers don't need to provide vacation time (paid or unpaid) nor do they need to provide paid sick leave. However, the federal Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can help eligible employees get up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year when they are sick or need medical care, when they're providing medical care for an immediate family member, or for the birth or adoption of a baby or child. If an employer works on a holiday, some employers pay 1.5 times the pay, but aren't required to.

Right to Work

Tennessee is a "right to work" state, meaning union membership (or an in-kind monthly payment by non-union members to cover representation costs) can't be required. Right to work laws are controversial and legal challenges are possible.

Employment At Will

Tennessee is an "employment at will" state. This means the employer can legally hire, fire, or suspend any employee and an employee can quit at anytime for any reason or no reason. However, there are some protections for employees, such as:

Enforcement Agency

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Labor Standards Division, enforces the wage regulation (i.e. inappropriate paycheck deductions or other wages owed), prevailing wage, and child labor laws. They can be reached at 1-866-588-6814.

If you feel you were discriminated against on the basis of your race, sex, age, religion, color, national origin, disability, or pregnancy in hiring, firing, promotions, or other areas of employment, you may call the Tennessee Commission on Human Rights in Nashville at 615-741-5825 or file a complaint online. You can also file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Nashville or Memphis or get the process started online or at 1-800-669-4000.

Penalties

Violating wage and hour or other employment laws can result in criminal or civil penalties. A few examples of the penalties employers face are:

  • It's a Class D felony to employ a child under 14. This can be punished by 2-12 years in prison and a fine not more than $5,000 for an individual or $125,000 for a corporation.
  • Any employer who misrepresents wages to any employee in a new employment contract commits a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and up to a $50 fine.
  • For failing to pay wages to employees in private employment as required, in addition to a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail and up to a $500 fine, a civil penalty of $500 to $1,000 can be assessed for each separate offense.

Note: State laws change frequently -- contact a Tennessee employment attorney or research the laws to verify their currentness.

Related Resources

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