Compliance Watch:
What are my rights as an hourly employee in Tennessee?

January 8th 2024

It is imperative to acknowledge that the understanding of your legal entitlements associated with hourly employment go beyond mere legal application; they represent the gateway towards professional growth, providing the confidence needed to steer one’s own professional career path.

As you punch in and out every day from work, the income that you earn significantly defines your position in the professional sphere. While the complexities of employment laws differ among U.S. states, you might find yourself wondering about your specific employment entitlements in your state and how to ensure their proper compliance with the respective laws. 

Hence, this article is particularly crafted to address your questions regarding various aspects of employment as a working employee. Its objective is to provide you with the pertinent information needed to guarantee that your employment rights are legally safeguarded throughout your employment.

This Article Covers

Defining an Hourly Employee in Tennessee
Wage and Hour Regulations in Tennessee
Rest Laws in Tennessee
Deductions, Benefits, and Protections in Tennessee
Termination of Employment in Tennessee

Defining an Hourly Employee in Tennessee

What is Hourly Employment in Tennessee?

Generally, an hourly employee is compensated based on the exact amount of time they work for each pay period and their gross pay may differ from paycheck to paycheck, because it is based on the number of hours they have actually worked during a given time.

Due to the compensatory nature of hourly employees, employers typically use time tracking tools to monitor the compensable working hours of their hourly employees to ensure they are accurately paid. On the other hand, the working hours of salaried employees is not reflected on their paycheck as they are compensated based on a predetermined annual amount.

Furthermore, hourly employees are able to receive overtime compensation unlike their salaried counterparts, if they are classed as exempt employees. Hence, due to the overall nature of employment of hourly employees, hourly employees may receive lesser work benefits (such as health insurance or retirement plans) compared to salaried employees.

What are the Key Differences Between Salaried and Hourly Employees in Tennessee?

Aspect Hourly Employees Salaried Employees
Compensation Hourly employees are paid for each hour they have worked. Salaried employees are compensated through a fixed salary paid on a monthly basis or bimonthly basis. 
Overtime Pay Hourly employees are legally entitled to earn the federally mandated overtime pay established in the state. Salaried employees may be legally exempt from earning the federally mandated overtime pay established in the state if they are classed as ‘exempt’ employees.
Minimum wage Hourly employees acquire the right to earn the federally mandated minimum hourly pay. Salaried employees may not acquire the right to earn the federally mandated minimum hourly pay if they are classed as ‘exempt’ employees.
Employment benefits Hourly employees may acquire less job benefits in their employment. Salaried employees may acquire more job benefits in their employment.
Rest and Meal Breaks Hourly employees are legally entitled to mandatory rest and meal breaks as imposed by state law. Salaried employees are legally entitled to mandatory rest and meal breaks as imposed by state law.
Compensation Stability An hourly employee’s income depends on the number of hours they have actually worked. A salaried employee’s income is consistently supplied irrespective of the number of hours they have actually worked. 

To learn more about Tennessee labor laws, you can access our informative guides on understanding your rights as a salaried employee in Tennessee and discovering how to run payroll in Tennessee.

Wage and Hour Regulations in Tennessee

What are the Maximum Weekly Working Hours in Tennessee?

The state of Tennessee does not have its own laws governing minimum wage and overtime for the purpose of calculating compensation. Hence, Tennessee provides no legal restrictions as to the maximum working hours an employee is required to work in a given workweek. For this reason, the regulations for workweeks established under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) apply. Although, it should be noted that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) too remains silent as to the maximum weekly hours an employee is required to work. Therefore, an employee over the age of 16 is permitted to work as many hours as they are expected to by their employer in a given workweek.

While both state laws and federal laws lack specificity in establishing the required maximum weekly working hours of an hourly employee, federal law does specifically mandate employers to compensate eligible employees for working overtime hours beyond the regular 40-hour work week set at a rate of one and a half times their regular hourly wage.

However, not all employees in the state of Tennessee are eligible to earn the federally mandated minimum wage or overtime compensation. Some employees who are engaged in specific occupations earning a particular salary threshold are legally exempt from this requirement under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

What is the Minimum Wage for Hourly Employees in Tennessee?

Currently, the minimum wage requirement in the state of Tennessee is governed by the legal provisions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). As a result, Tennessee’s minimum wage follows the federally mandated minimum of $7.25. Therefore, in accordance with the minimum wage mandated by federal law, Tennessee’s hourly employees would typically earn a minimum weekly wage of $290 in any given 40 hour workweek.

Do all Employees Earn the minimum Wage in Tennessee?

The list below comprises certain categories of employees who are legally exempt from earning Tennessee’s minimum wage, as established by federal law’s minimum wage requirement. However, the last seven employees in the following list are exempt from earning both the federally mandated minimum wage and overtime pay requirements.

  • Tipped Employees: Under federal law, tipped employees who regularly earn more than $30 of tips in a month are permitted to be paid an hourly minimum pay of $2.13 but only if the hourly wage and tips combined meet the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
  • Full-time students: High school or college students, who work part time may earn 85% of the federal minimum hourly pay requirement for up to 20 hours of work in a week.
  • Employees below 20 years old: Under federal law employers are mandated to pay their employees below the age of 20 an hourly training pay of $4.25 within the first 90 days of employment.
  • Outside salespeople.
  • Newspaper delivery men.
  • Casual babysitters.
  • Agricultural employees.
  • Seamen employed on foreign vessels.
  • Administrative, executive, or professional employees.
  • Employees who are computer professionals.

How Many Hours Qualify As Overtime and What is the Associated Pay in Tennessee?

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) defines overtime hours as any additional hours worked beyond the regular 40-hour work week, during which non-exempt employees must be compensated at a fixed hourly rate of one and a half times their standard hourly wage. Therefore, an hourly wage earner in the state of Tennessee is expected to earn a minimum pay rate of $10.88 for each hour worked overtime.

In addition to the seven employees mentioned earlier, who are exempt from both the federally mandated minimum wage and overtime pay requirements under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the following list below comprises specific employees who are only exempt from earning the federally mandated overtime pay:

  1. Certain commissioned employees of retail or service establishments; auto, truck, trailer, farm implement, boat, or aircraft sales-workers; or parts-clerks and mechanics servicing autos, trucks, or farm implements, who are employed by non-manufacturing establishments primarily engaged in selling these items to ultimate purchasers;
  2. Employees of railroads and air carriers, taxi drivers, certain employees of motor carriers, seamen on American vessels, and local delivery employees paid on approved trip rate plans;
  3. Announcers, news editors, and chief engineers of specific non-metropolitan broadcasting stations;
  4. Domestic service employees living in the employer’s residence;
  5. Employees of motion picture theatres; and
  6. Farmworkers.

Rest Laws in Tennessee

What are the Offered Meal and Rest Breaks for Hourly Employees in Tennessee?

According to Tennessee’s meal and rest break law, as established under section 50-2-103 of the Tennessee Code Annotated, an employee must be given a thirty-minute unpaid meal or rest break if they have been scheduled to work for six or more consecutive hours. Furthermore, the law specifies that the rest or meal break cannot be scheduled before or during the first hour of work. However, such a break is not mandatory if the nature of employees’ work grants ample time for rest or appropriate breaks, as is the case for employees working in occupations such as security guards or in the food and beverage industry.

Additionally, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) law and the relevant state law require employers to provide reasonable, unpaid break time daily for employees who are nursing mothers and need to express milk for their infants. Both laws demand employers to make reasonable efforts to provide employees with a private non-bathroom area to express milk. If possible, breastfeeding breaks should concurrently run with any other break time already provided. In this regard, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) mandates employers to provide employees with breastfeeding breaks for up to one year after childbirth.

What Laws Govern Time Off and Leaves for Hourly Employees in Tennessee?

  1. Annual paid leave for public employees: The statutory laws established under section 8-50-801 of Tennessee Code Annotated provide accrued paid annual leave to all state government employees who have worked 1,600 hours or more in a fiscal year, regardless if they are paid on an hourly, daily, monthly, or piecework basis.
  2. Sick leave for public employees: Section 8-50-802 of Tennessee Code Annotated offers accrued paid sick leave to all state government employees who have worked 1,600 hours or more in a fiscal year, regardless if they are compensated on an hourly, daily, monthly, or piecework basis. Weekends and official holidays within a leave period are not considered as leave unless such days are scheduled as work days for the employee. It should be noted that part-time employees, temporary employees who work for less than six months, seasonal workers, and emergency employees in the preferred service are exempt from this leave entitlement.
  3. Parental and adoption care leave: Under  section 4-21-408 of Tennessee Code Annotated, an employee is provided with four months of job-protected, parental and adoption care leave for reasons related to adoption, pregnancy, childbirth, and infant nursing. This leave entitlement applies only to employees hired by an employer with 100 or more employees and who have been employed for a minimum of 12 consecutive months as full-time employees. Furthermore, compensation for this leave is determined by the employer and runs concurrently with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides 12 weeks of annual unpaid leave for childbirth, child adoption and specified medical reasons. Utilizing this leave shall not affect an employee’s eligibility for any employment benefits or entitlements for which the employee was qualified for at their leave date.

Deductions, Benefits, and Protections in Tennessee

What are the Laws Regarding Pay Deductions for Hourly Employees in Tennessee?

According to the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development, an employer may deduct or withdraw wages from an employee’s pay only if the employee has given prior written consent for such deductions which may include items such as:

  • Cash till shortages
  • Breakage, damage, or loss of the employer’s property
  • Required uniforms
  • Necessary equipment
  • Other items required for employment

Furthermore, Tennessee’s statutory laws permit an employer to reduce an employee’s wage if they have given notice prior to the employee performing any work.

What are the Provided Hourly Employees Entitlements Under Tennessee State Law?

  • Minimum wage: Hourly employees in the state of Tennessee are rightly entitled by federal law to be compensated the federal minimum hourly pay of $7.25.
  • Overtime: Federal law entitles hourly employees with the legal right to be compensated for working hours beyond the 40 hours work week, at an hourly wage rate of one and a half times their standard hourly wage.
  • Worker’s compensation insurance: In the state of Tennessee, employers with five or more employees, as well as those in the construction and coal mining industries, are mandated by the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Act to provide worker’s compensation insurance benefits to employees who sustain work-related injuries.
  • Unemployment insurance benefits: The unemployment insurance benefits temporarily provide income to unemployed individuals who  have lost their job through no fault of their own, partially offsetting lost wages as they seek other job opportunities. The Department of Labor and Workforce Development are responsible for administering such benefits.
  • Extended health insurance benefits: The state of Tennessee offers its own version of the federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), a federal law that legally provides employees with the entitlement to continue their health insurance benefits after the end of their employment. Tennessee’s mini-COBRA law provides employees with up to 3 months of continuation of their insurance benefits or for up to nine months after a pregnancy.

What are the Provided Hourly Employee Protections Under Tennessee State Law?

  • Whistleblowing protection: Under section 8-50-116 of Tennessee Code Annotated, employees are protected against retaliatory acts by their employers for reporting or refusing to participate in any activities that violate federal or state law or impose an unreasonable risk to health and safety within the workplace. In addition, the False Claims Act prohibits employers from enforcing any company’s regulations, rules or policies that prevent an employee from reporting to any government or law enforcement agency.
  • Protection of the Right to Refuse Polygraph Testing: Under section 62-27-128 of Tennessee Code Annotated, employees are legally protected from having personnel actions taken against them by their employers solely based on their polygraph examination results.
  • Child labor protection: The state of Tennessee has imposed its own laws under the Tennessee Child Labor Act of 1976, which legally restricts minors in the type of occupation they can engage in, their working hours (depending on their age and whether school is in session), and their procedure for the commencement of employment. Furthermore, a minor must provide their employer with a proof of their age before commencing employment by providing a copy of their birth certificate, passport, driver’s license or state issued identification. If this is not possible, an oath regarding the minor’s age must be made by the minor’s parent guardian before the judge in the minor’s county of residence.
  • Protection from workplace discrimination: The Tennessee Human Rights Act (THRA) prevents workplace discrimination by prohibiting an employer from making employment decisions based on an employee’s protected characteristics such as their race, creed, color, religion, sex, age, or national origin.

Termination of Employment in Tennessee

What are the Termination Laws for Hourly Employees in Tennessee?

Much like other U.S. states, the state of Tennessee adopts the ‘employment-at-will’ doctrine to generally characterize the nature of its employment relationships between employers and employees. In essence, both parties are generally entitled to terminate the employment relationship at any given time, with or without giving any prior notice or disclosing any particular reason for doing so. Nevertheless, there are limits that apply to this general presumption, which restrict an employer’s grounds of termination. These restrictions are as follows:

  1. Breach of individual employment contracts or collective bargaining agreements: The terms of a contract of employment or a collective bargaining agreement may outline the justifiable grounds for termination. Therefore, if an employer dismisses a non-‘at-will’ employee, they must ensure to strictly adhere to the respective terms of the employment contract or collective bargaining agreement to avoid lawsuits being filed against them by the employee.
  2. Retaliation: Employers cannot retaliate against their employees by terminating their employment simply because the employee has reported or advised their employer against the commission of any legal violations within the workplace. This is usually applicable where the employee reports the employer for violating health and safety laws within the workplace. Similarly, an employer is prohibited from retaliating against an employee for simply exercising their legal rights, such as fulfilling their duties which serve the public interest or filing a compensation claim.
  3. Public policy: Tennessee-based employers are prohibited from terminating their employees if their reasons for termination violate established policies, such as terminating an employee for using their maternity or family medical leave or fulfilling public interest duties (such as utilizing their military or jury duty leave).
  4. Workplace discrimination: The state employment laws, established under the Tennessee Human Rights Act (THRA), prohibit an employer from terminating an employee based on the grounds of the employee’s religion, sex, color, creed, race, age or national origin. However, these anti-discrimination laws only apply to employers with eight or more employees.

Additionally, as outlined in section 50-2-103 of Tennessee’s statute, an employer is mandated to pay an employee, who has been dismissed or who has voluntarily resigned from their employment, their final paychecks by the next regular pay period or 21 days after they leave, whichever occurs later. Furthermore, the final paycheck must consist of any accrued, unused vacation payment or other leave if mandated by the employment contract or policy signed by the employee.

Should Severance Pay Be Provided to Hourly Employees in Tennessee?

In the state of Tennessee, there are no employment laws established under both federal or state standards that require employers to offer severance pay to their employees once their employment relationship ends. However, if severance pay is mandated by the employment contract, collective bargaining agreement or company policies, the employer must ensure strict compliance with its relevant terms.

Final Thoughts

To summarize, gaining a solid comprehension of your employment entitlements is crucial for securing your legal rights and safeguarding your overall well-being in your employment.

Due to the ever-developing nature of employment laws, staying abreast of the latest advancements in employment regulations in your state is imperative for making well-informed decisions concerning your employment throughout your career trajectory.

Important Cautionary Note

When making this guide we have tried to make it accurate but we do not give any guarantee that the information provided is correct or up-to-date. We therefore strongly advise you seek advice from qualified professionals before acting on any information provided in this guide. We do not accept any liability for any damages or risks incurred for use of this guide.