Employee Rights

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

Employers may legally terminate an employee at any time for any reason, or for no reason without incurring legal liability.  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. Likewise, an employee is free to leave a job at any time for any or no reason with no adverse legal consequences.

Exceptions to the Rule

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

  • Being called to military service Title 8-33-101 thru 8-33-109
  • Voting in elections Title 2-1-106
  • Exercising right of association Title 50-1-201 thru 50-1-204
  • Wage garnishment Title 26-2-101 thru 26-2-410
  • Filing workers' compensation claim Title 50-6-101 thru 50-6-705
  • Being called to jury duty Title 22-4-108
    • (Employer must also pay the employee wages during the jury service less what the court pays.)

In any civil cause of action for retaliatory discharge brought pursuant to this section, or in any civil cause of action alleging retaliation for refusing to participate in or remain silent about illegal activities, the plaintiff shall have the burden of establishing a prima facie case of retaliatory discharge. If the plaintiff satisfies this burden, the burden shall then be on the defendant to produce evidence that one (1) or more legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons existed for the plaintiff's discharge.

The burden on the defendant is one of production and not persuasion. If the defendant produces such evidence, the presumption of discrimination raised by the plaintiff's prima facie case is rebutted, and the burden shifts to the plaintiff to demonstrate that the reason given by the defendant was not the true reason for the plaintiff's discharge and that the stated reason was a pretext for unlawful retaliation. The foregoing allocations of burdens of proof shall apply at all stages of the proceedings, including motions for summary judgment.

The plaintiff at all times retains the burden of persuading the trier of fact that the plaintiff has been the victim of unlawful retaliation. The Whistler-Blower-Law may be found at Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-1-304.  ​


Labor Standards Unit