Employees Tennessee is one of approximately 20 right-to-work states within the United States that does not require employees (other than those in railway, airline, or certain goverment enclaves) to join or support a trade union as a condition of employment. It is further one of four states that does not tax employees on their income.
Tennessee is also known as an employment-at-will state because employment is voluntary both for employers and employees, and absent a specific contract to the contrary, may 'generally' be terminated at any time without cause. There are of course exceptions to this rule both under federal and states statutes as well as common law, but Tennessee ranks as one of the more liberal states where employer rights are concerned.
There is no provision under state law for a minimum wage or overtime pay for employees, so federal wage guidelines under the Fair Labor Standards Act will control. Also employees in Tennessee do not have a right to be consulted or represented in corporate transactions such as disposals and redundancies.
Written contracts with employees are generally not required unless the employment term is intended for over one year, and thereby subject to Tennessee's Statute of Frauds, TCA § 29-2-101. However, contracts pertaining to covenants not to compete following termination, and non-disclosure provisions, are frequently used by employers who own propietary technology or resources. Tennessee courts have upheld such agreements under a "rule of reasonableness", standard. That is, non-compete agreements may be enforced in so far as they reasonably protect an employer's interests, but only to the extent that they do not impose an undue hardship on the employee, or otherwise offend public policy.
Although there is little distinction under the law between lawful justified dismissal, and lawful unjustified dismissal, employers must take care not to terminate an employee for an unlawful purpose, such as to discriminate or retaliate. Some employers therefore choose not to offer any specific reasons for dismissing an employee so as to avoid possible further questioning or evidentiary investigations by the employee or government agencies charged with protecting the employee's interests. However, despite these ostensible safeguards, employers accused of discrimination under federal law or the Tenneessee Human Rights Act (i.e. discrimination based on race, creed, color, religion, sex, age), often must present a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for dismissing a worker. Likewise, legitmate reasons for termination must be provided where an employer is accused of violating the Public Protection Act . Frequently referred to as Tennessee's whistle-blower statute, this act makes it illegal for employers to retaliate against an employee for either refusing to participate in, or to remain silent about, any illegal conduct of an employer.
In addition to protection from discrimination and retaliation, employees working in Tennessee enjoy several other important state mandated rights. Tennessee law requires Tennessee all employers with 5 or more employees (fewer still in other industries such as mining and construction) to carry workers compensation insurance, and all employers to fund employment insurance programs for downsized employees through the state's Department of Labor and Workforce Development. In addition to federal rights employees may have under the Family and Medical Leave Act (applicable to employers with 50+ employees), Tennessee also provides for a 4 month unpaid leave of absence under its own Maternity Leave Law which applies to employers with staff of 100 or more. Child labor laws further provide restrictions on hiring minors under the age of 18.
All employees, regardless of whether they are foreign nationals or citizens born in Tennessee, are entitled to the same rights and protections under Tennessee's legal system.
Current issues relevant to Tennessee Human Resource Professionals may be found through the TPMA and its links.