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Frequently Asked Questions - Tennessee Labor Laws

*NOTE: Visit the U.S. Department of Labor website for the following issues: Overtime, Minimum Wage, and Salaried Employees. 1-866-4USWAGE (1-866-487-9243) TTY: 1-877-889-5627


What if I have a complaint about unfair labor practices?
Applicants for employment or employees having disabilities may be protected against employment discrimination by the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. Those needing information about ADA may visit the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) Web site.

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CHILD LABOR ACT Title 50-5-101 – 115

My child is 15 and wants to work. Where do I get a work permit?
The state of Tennessee does not require work permits. The minor needs to provide the prospective employer with a copy one of the following documents as proof of age; birth certificate, driver license, state issued ID, or a copy of their passport.

What is the age a child can go to work? Are there any restrictions?
In Tennessee, a minor must be 14 years of age before they can work. Some of the restrictions for 14 and 15-year-old minors are:

Can work no more than 3 hours per day
Can work no more than 18 hours a week
Can work no later than 7:00 p.m.

Can work no more than 8 hours a day
Can work no more than 40 hours per week
Can work no later than 9:00 p.m.

Breaks for minors under age 18:
Any minor scheduled to work 6 hours must have a thirty (30) minute rest or meal break no exceptions.

Are these restrictions the same for 16 and 17 year olds?
No. There are no limitations on the number of hours that 16 and 17-year-old minors work. They cannot be required to work during school hours; nor can they work past 10:00 p.m. on nights preceding school days (Sunday through Thursday nights), unless their parents or guardians sign a Parental Consent Form. The Parental Consent Form would allow them to work no later than 12:00 midnight three of those nights while school is in session.

The Child Labor Act prohibits minors, whether they are 14 to 15 or 16 to 17 year olds from employment in certain occupations. A copy of the Child Labor Act may be obtained upon request. Note: State and Federal Laws conflict. Therefore, we have quoted the stricter of the two laws.

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How do I file a claim for discriminatory practices?

Discrimination against employees is illegal under both Federal and State law. Employers may not discriminate against an employee on the basis of the employee's race, sex, age, religion, color, national origin or disability. Claims of discrimination in Tennessee should be forwarded either to the Tennessee Commission on Human Rights in Nashville Tennessee at (615) 741-5825, or to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in Nashville, Tennessee. You may visit the TCHR Web site and the EEOC Web site.

Pregnancy Discrimination

Tennessee also has a specific pregnancy discrimination law (Tennessee Revised Statute Title 4-21-408) that prohibits an employer from discriminating against a pregnant employee. These complaints should be forwarded to TCHR or EEOC.

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Are there any legal restrictions against firing, suspending or disciplining employees?

Tennessee is known as an "EMPLOYMENT-AT-WILL" state. Generally, this means that an employer may legally hire, fire, suspend or discipline any employee at any time and for any reason - good or bad - or for no reason at all. However, an employer may not discriminate against any employee on the basis of the employee's race, sex, age, religion, color, national origin, or disability.

Also, under the Tennessee "WHISTLE BLOWER'S LAW", the employer may not take any reprisal against an employee who advises the employer that the business is in violation of a law and the employee either discloses, threatens to disclose, or testifies about the violation of law, or the employee objects to or refuses to participate in an employment act in violation of law. This law may be found at Tennessee Revised Statutes Title 50-1-304.

There are other exceptions to Tennessee's "EMPLOYMENT-AT-WILL" doctrine. Tennessee employees may not be disciplined or discharged at-will for:

    • (Employer must also pay the employee wages during the jury service less what the court pays.)

Employees who are fired may still apply for unemployment insurance benefits. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Unemployment Insurance Division will determine eligibility. Further information may be found under the Unemployment Insurance section of this web site.

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Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, employers having 50 or more employees must grant medical leave to some employees in certain circumstances without the threat of the loss of their job. Questions concerning the enforcement of FMLA matters should be directed to the FMLA section of the United States Department of Labor's Web site.

Can an employee be discharged while out sick even though they provide a doctor's statement?

There are no Tennessee laws regulating terminations. If the employee feels discrimination is involved, they are referred to either the Tennessee Human Rights Commission or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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Under certain circumstances, Tennessee law allows employers to pay to the surviving spouse or children of a deceased employee the last wages and other benefits due the deceased employee without a court order. This law may be found at Tennessee Revised Statutes Title 30-2-103

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Questions concerning unfair labor practices where a union is involved should be directed to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) at their Web site.

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Questions Concerning a PENSION or 401(k) plan

Questions concerning an employee's failure to be able to collect their pension or money from a 401(k) plan should be directed to the EBSA (formerly PWBA) section of the United States Department of Labor's web site.

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PREVAILING WAGE ACT Title 12-4-401 (Part 4)

Who sets the prevailing wage rates?
The Prevailing Wage Commission sets the rates on state-funded highway (highway, road, and bridge) construction projects every year. A survey is performed annually to study each industry and the survey is used to determine appropriate rates for highway construction projects.

If a contractor has not paid the prevailing wage rate on a state-funded highway project, what can be done?
Claims are investigated and certified payroll is reviewed. If violations are found, state contracting agencies are placed on notice by WRC - Labor Standard Inspectors. If prime contractors or other employers do not pay employees proper rates, WRC - Labor Standard Inspectors contact state contracting agencies and place them on notice. State contracting agencies have discretion as to whether to place a hold on money owed to the prime contractor or other employers or handle the matter in accordance with their agency rules.

If a contractor has not paid the prevailing wage rate on a state-funded building project, what can be done?
Refer to the January 1, 2014 bulletin cited below.

Are there civil penalties associated with the TN Prevailing Wage Law (Is TDLWD required to collect civil penalties)?

Prevailing Wage Act

Prevailing Wage Bulletin

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Does Tennessee require labor laws to be posted?
Yes. See "Required Posters" to view or for copies.

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Under Tennessee law deductions can only be taken out of pay if the employee has authorized it by a written statement.

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Questions Concerning Overtime, Minimum Wage, or Salaried Employees

Tennessee has no wage laws concerning overtime, minimum wage, or the regulation of salaried employees. The United States Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division enforces the Fair Labor Standards Act regulating minimum wage, overtime and salaried employees. Further information concerning these matters may be found at the WH division of the Department of Labor web site.

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What is the law concerning payment of final paychecks to employees?
Tennessee employees who are laid off, fired, or who quit must be paid their wages in full at the next regular payday, not to exceed 21 days from the date of their discharge or termination. Claims against an employer for late payment may be filed with the Labor Standards Division. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development has the authority to enforce this law. You may review this law at Tennessee Revised Statutes Title 50-2-103(g)

Isn't my employer required to provide breaks and a meal period?
State law requires that each employee scheduled to work six (6) consecutive hours must have a thirty (30) minute meal or rest period, except in workplace environments that by their nature of business provides for ample opportunity to rest or take an appropriate break. The failure to give a (30) minute meal or rest period is a violation of State law only. There are no State or Federal requirements for additional breaks. The Federal Law does require breaks of less than 30 minutes in duration to be paid if the employer chooses to grant such breaks. Title 50-2-103 (h)

How often must my employer pay me?
All wages or compensation of employees in private employment is due and payable at least semi-monthly and notice of regular paydays must be posted by each employer in at least two conspicuous places. Title 50-2-103

My employer has just told me he is going to cut my pay. Can he do this without my approval?
An employee's pay can be cut with or without his approval as long as the employer tells the employee BEFORE any work is done. The employee cannot work without first knowing the amount of wages to be paid. Title 50-2-101

Under Tennessee Wage Regulation Act Title 50-2-101 – 50-2-108, an employer is prohibited from penalizing an employee or deducting any sum of money as a penalty or fine from the employee's wages.

Tennessee Wage Regulation Act Title 50–2–103 requires employers of private employments of 5 or more employees to establish and maintain regular pay periods at least twice monthly. Penalties may be accessed for violation of this section against those employers for missing a regularly scheduled payroll date and in paying their employees late.

Can my employer hold my paycheck until I return my uniform, etc.?
No. An employer cannot hold your paycheck for any reason.

Can my employer withhold the cost of my uniform, equipment, company loans, shortages and negligence, etc. from my paycheck?
No. Your employer cannot make any deductions from your paycheck without your consent to the deductions.

I work in the same job classification as a person of the opposite sex, but I am paid less. Is this legal?
No employer shall discriminate between employees in the same establishment on the basis of sex by paying one employee more or less than he pays to any employee of the opposite sex for comparable skill, effort and responsibility in which they are performed under similar working conditions. However, nothing prohibits wage deferential based on a seniority system, a merit system, a system which measures earnings by quality production or any other reasonable deferential which is based on a factor other than sex. Title 50-2-201 thru 207

If I complain about equal pay, whose wages would be adjusted?
An employer who is paying a wage deferential in violation of the act shall not reduce the wages of any employee in order to be in compliance.

Can an employer terminate an employee for a claim on equal pay?
No employer is allowed to terminate or discriminate against any employee who files a claim for equal pay.

Is an employer required by law to provide paid vacation, holidays, severance pay, sick pay or health insurance?
No. The State of Tennessee does not have a law that regulates fringe benefits. Company policy would be the determining factor. These and similar matters are also determined by an agreement between the employees and the employer, or their authorized representatives. Title 50-2-103 (3)

If an employer's policy provides a paid vacation and the employee's employment is terminated, is the employer required to compensate for any vacation time I have accrued but not used?
No. Unless the employer's policy or its labor agreement specifically requires compensation of unused "vacation pay or other compensatory time" to an employee upon his or her termination of employment, Tennessee Code Annotated § 50-2-103(a)(3) does not require that an employee's final wages include such compensation.

If an employee terminates voluntarily or involuntarily, does the employer have to pay all wages due at the time of termination?
The employer is required to pay all wages or compensation due the terminated employee on the next regular payday following the date of termination or 21 days thereafter, whichever comes last.

If the employer refuses payment of wages, what can the employee do?
Anyone who has a problem collecting wages can file a wage claim with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development's Division of Labor Standards. If the circumstances are such that we are unable to help, the complainant is referred to court.

If an employee is still employed and the employer is not paying the employee correctly and they file a wage claim, can they be terminated?
There is no Tennessee law which prevents an employer from firing an employee because they file a complaint with our office, unless the complaint was equal pay.

Who determines how many hours a part-time employee may work and how long may an employee be consider part-time?
The employer sets the number of hours and makes the decision when the employee becomes a permanent employee.

My employer has just told me that I am going to be paid by direct deposit. Can he do this?
Yes, an employer can change the method of payment to direct deposit. However, the choice of the financial institution must be that of the employee.

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The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Labor Standards Division, has jurisdiction to enforce the Following State Labor Laws:

  • Child Labor Laws Title 50-5-101 thru 115
  • Prevailing Wage Act Title 12-4-401 thru 415
  • Wage Regulation Act Title 50-2-101 thru 109
  • Only questions that arise in each of the above areas should be directed to the Labor Standards Division. All other questions should be directed to the proper agency (see previous sections) or to an attorney or a labor, employment, or human resources consultant.

Does TDLWD provide advice on garnishments, tax levies, or other similar withholdings from pay?TDLWD does not have the authority to provide assistance or advice in this area.

Will TDLWD provide me with legal representation or advice?
The TDLWD Legal Division provides legal services to TDLWD and its offices and employees only. The Legal Division does not offer legal representation, legal opinions or legal advice to the general public. It is recommended those individuals seeking personal counsel request the assistance of a private attorney or Legal Services Corporation.

As an employer must I provide a former or current employee with a copy of my employment personnel files?
There's no federal law or Tennessee law that requires the employer to do so. The employment file is the property of the employer. The employer is not required to furnish current or former employee’s whole file or specific things in the file.

However, the employer may choose to furnish a copy. If the employee files suit, they will be able to subpoena the file any way. An employer may charge for example, 50 cents a page, to cover time and cost to copy, payable up front in cash. Example, the person requesting the file should be told how many pages are in the file. If the file consists of fifty pages, they would have to present the employer with $25.00 before the file would be copied.

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The Division of Labor Standards may be contacted by calling 615-741-2858 (option 3) or toll-free at 1-866-588-6814.