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Tennessee Wage & Hour Violations and Lawsuits

Tennessee labor lawsuits allege violations of Tennessee employment laws including overtime pay, discrimination and harassment. Tennessee labor law sets out guidelines for overtime, meal and rest breaks and other wage & hour laws. Possible violations of Tennessee employment law include wrongful termination, retaliation and discrimination.


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Tennessee Employment and Labor Laws

At-Will Employment
Tennessee is an at-will employment state. At-will employees can be terminated for any reason, except reasons that are deemed to be illegal, such as on the basis of race, nationality or sexual orientation, or because the employee refuses to break a law. Further, Tennessee employees cannot be fired for filing a workplace rights complaint, a safety complaint or an injured worker claim.

Most employees do not have a contract with their employer stating they must remain employed for a certain amount of time. Employees who are covered by an employment contract can usually only be terminated for the reasons set out in the contract, unless the employer shows proof that the employee is an at-will employee.

Tennessee state law provides minimal additional protection for certain protected classes in the workplace, but federal law still applies. Tennessee employment lawyers can help you understand workers’ rights and pursue remedies when these rights are violated.

Tennessee Minimum Wage
Tennessee doesn’t have a minimum wage, but Tennessee employees are entitled to earn at least $7.25 per hour, the federal minimum hourly wage. If you earn tips, however, your employer may pay you a lower minimum wage, as long as you earn enough in tips to bring your hourly pay up to at least the full minimum wage of $7.25. In Tennessee, tipped employees can be legally paid as little as $2.13 an hour.

Common Tennessee Employment Violations

Tennessee Overtime: Under the FLSA, Tennessee employers must pay employees overtime, which is time and a half, for all hours worked after the first 40 in a week. Some employees are not entitled to earn overtime, such as those classified as exempt. For instance, a salaried manager is classified as exempt and not eligible for overtime. However, many overtime lawsuits -- such as an overtime lawsuit filed against Cash America Pawn Shops – allege manager misclassification to avoid paying overtime (see Tennessee Overtime Lawsuit, below).

Tennessee Compensatory time is paid time off given to an employee instead of overtime wages. Compensatory time off is legal but employers are still required to provide the time off at the same rate as the overtime wages.

Employers who have written policies about overtime requiring authorization and permit employees to still work overtime and fail to compensate them may be in violation of the FLSA.

Meal Breaks: Tennessee employees who work at least six consecutive hours in a shift are entitled to a 30-minute unpaid meal break, unless the nature of the work provides adequate time to break throughout the day. Employees who work in the food and/or beverage industry and receive tips may waive their right to a meal break. The tipped employee must knowingly and voluntarily sign a wavier, with the employer's consent. Employers may not coerce employees into waiving their right to a meal break.

Under federal law, employers who choose to offer breaks of 20 minutes or less must generally pay employees for that time.

Compensable (Donning and Doffing) Time: Employers are required to pay employees for putting on uniforms, using protective gear, performing inventory, setting up and/or cleaning up their work environments, and other activities, also referred to as “donning and doffing”. Many donning and doffing activities may occur before and after the actual duties, but under the labor laws they may be considered compensable time because the extra time is related to an employees job duties.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

The Fair Labor Standards Act is a federal law that sets the wage and hour standards, including overtime hours and wages. Under the FLSA, some workers can be exempted from overtime pay. However, those workers must fit the criteria the FLSA sets out for exemption. More information on how the Fair Labor Standards Act applies to overtime can be found here.

Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)

The Occupational Safety and Health Act is a federal law enacted to ensure that employees work in an environment that is free from recognized hazards. It is part of the United States Code, Title 29, Chapter 15. Employers may not fire employees who report violations of state occupational health and safety laws. Employees who feel their rights have been violated may have the opportunity to bring their complaint before the courts.

Tennessee Leave Laws

In Tennessee, benefits such as vacation time, sick days, holidays, or paid time off (PTO) are discretionary. Neither the state of Tennessee nor federal law requires employers to offer paid leave. However, employers may be required to offer unpaid leave for reasons such as:

    Family and medical leave: The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers with at least 50 employees to give eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off per year for illness, caregiving, and bonding with a new child.

    Military leave: The federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) requires employers to allow employees to take leave from work for federal or state military service or duty. Employers in Tennessee may not fire or refuse to hire someone because of membership in the National Guard, and may not fire employees for taking time off work for required drills and training.

Tennessee Labor Violations and Lawsuits

Discrimination According to various statutes such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), workers cannot be fired, demoted, or otherwise discriminated against in the workplace due to their age, sex, religion, national origin, disability, or race. If a worker has been fired, they should examine, carefully and thoroughly, their employer’s stated reason for doing so in addition to any past comments made by the company.

If the employee can show that their termination was motivated by any of the above factors, they may have grounds for a lawsuit and should consult with a Tennessee employment lawyer. Tennessee law does not provide a way for workers to directly sue their workplaces for discrimination. Rather, the claim must first be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Tennessee Human Rights Commission (THRC). These agencies investigate and enforce all alleged violations of federal and state employment laws.

Tennessee Discrimination Lawsuits

Chef Jessica Benefield and M Street Entertainment settled Benefield’s federal lawsuit, which alleged her firing from the restaurant was the result of discrimination and a hostile work environment. The case stretched almost three years and trial was set for September 2018.

Veteran waiter Gene Zane filed an age discrimination lawsuit against Palm Restaurant, saying its managers tolerated his co-workers' verbal abuse of him, such as comments including, "When are you going to get a walker?" following Zane's hip surgery, and "You're almost 60 -- go and enjoy your life." Zane is asking for more than $430,000 in compensation.

Tennessee Overtime Lawsuits

Rick Hill Imports Inc., a Tennessee car dealership, agreed to settle with the U.S. Department of Labor in an unpaid overtime lawsuit to resolve claims that the company violated various provisions of federal labor and wage laws, including failure to pay minimum wage. The company agreed to pay a combined $58,739 in back wages, interest, and damages to 20 current and former employees for violating the FLSA: An investigation found that the company did not pay workers on weeks when the individuals did not make any sales.

An overtime complaint has recently been filed against Cash America Pawn alleging the franchise violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by misclassifying a store manager as exempt to avoid paying overtime. The plaintiff argues that his, and other managers’ primary duties, were to serve as store clerks.

Statute of Limitations

Strict time limits dictate when a lawsuit disputing wage compensation can be filed. Under federal law, a lawsuit must be filed within two years of an employer’s violation, but some exceptions may be extended to three years. It is crucial that employees who believe they may have a claim speak with an experienced employment attorney sooner than later in order to preserve all of their legal claims.

Tennessee Wage & Hour Violations Legal Help

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Published on Aug-31-18


Tennessee Drywall Workers Win Unpaid Overtime in DOL Settlement
Tennessee Drywall Workers Win Unpaid Overtime in DOL Settlement
November 21, 2018
Hermitage, TN On October 19, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that Tennessee contractor, Vasquez Drywall, had agreed to pay $103,300 in back wages to workers misclassified as independent contractors and a $2,424 civil penalty. Employment misclassification is rampant in the construction industry in Tennessee and throughout the country. The practice deprives employees of overtime pay, workers compensation insurance and basic workplace safety protections. Undocumented construction workers are particularly at risk because they are unlikely to bring lawsuits or seek other enforcement action to preserve their rights READ MORE

Tennessee Minimum Wage Too Low for Many
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October 22, 2018
Nashville, TN: Although the Tennessee economy is doing well with record low unemployment rates, employers in the hospitality industry are having a difficult time attracting workers due to the state’s minimum wage, which is also a common Tennessee labor law issue READ MORE

Victory for Tipped Employees -- Bad News for Tennessee Based Restaurant Chain
Victory for Tipped Employees -- Bad News for Tennessee Based Restaurant Chain
October 18, 2018
Nashville, TN: The Ninth Circuit gave the green light last month for bartenders and servers to sue restaurants--including a Tennessee based chain-- for allegedly underpaying them regarding tipping, a violation of the federal and Tennessee labor law. The cases were consolidated on appeal as Marsh v. J. Alexander’s and remanded for further proceedings READ MORE
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