Compliance Watch:
What are my rights as a salaried employee in Tennessee?

January 29th 2024

Are you aware of your rights as a salaried employee in Tennessee? Understanding your entitlements in the workplace is crucial, whether you’re just embarking on a new career path or are a seasoned professional. In Tennessee, as in other states, salaried employees are protected under various federal and state laws. These laws ensure fair treatment concerning wages, job security, workplace safety, and health, among other aspects of employment. However, navigating these laws and understanding what they mean for you can often seem complicated. 

This article aims to simplify that information, providing a clear overview of what being a salaried employee in Tennessee entails, your rights, and what protections are afforded to you by law.

This Article Covers

Defining a Salaried Employee in Tennessee
Common Questions About Salaried Employee Rights in Tennessee
Understanding Exempt vs. Non-Exempt Status in Tennessee
Wage and Hour Regulations in Tennessee
Deductions, Benefits, and Protections in Tennessee
Taking Action Against Violations in Tennessee
Case Studies and Real-Life Scenarios of Salaried Employee Rights Violations in Tennessee

Defining a Salaried Employee in Tennessee

What is Salaried Employment in Tennessee?

Salaried employment in Tennessee refers to a working arrangement that differs significantly from hourly employment. While hourly employees are compensated based on the actual hours they work, including overtime pay for any hours worked beyond the standard workweek, salaried employees receive a predetermined amount of compensation on a regular basis, typically bi-weekly or monthly. In simple words, this fixed salary is agreed upon at the outset of the employment and is not directly tied to the specific number of hours worked. This type of compensation model is common for professional, managerial, or administrative positions.

In the context of employment law, salaried employees in Tennessee are often classified as “exempt” employees, depending on the job duties and responsibilities. This classification refers to the exemption from certain provisions of the FLSA, including overtime pay requirements. So, to qualify as an exempt salaried employee in Tennessee, an individual must typically perform specific types of work that are considered executive, professional, or administrative in nature. Additionally, they must receive a minimum specified salary, which is governed by federal law.

However, it’s important to note that receiving a salary doesn’t automatically make an employee exempt from overtime. The distinction between exempt and non-exempt status depends on the actual job functions and responsibilities in addition to compensation. Non-exempt salaried employees, while less common, are entitled to overtime pay at a rate of one and a half times the regular pay for any hours worked beyond the standard 40-hour workweek. Misclassification of employees is a serious issue that can have legal and financial repercussions for employers.

Moreover, salaried employees in Tennessee have rights under state and federal laws that dictate other aspects of employment, such as anti-discrimination protections, workplace safety regulations, and medical and family leave entitlements under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). These laws ensure fair treatment regardless of the employees’ exempt status.

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

Key Differences

Salaried Employee Hourly Employee
Payment Structure Receive a fixed amount of money per pay period, regardless of the number of hours worked.

Paid based on the actual number of hours worked; the pay changes if the number of hours changes.

Overtime Typically exempt from overtime pay requirements, meaning they do not receive extra pay for hours worked beyond the standard workweek. However, this can vary based on job duties and salary level.

Entitled to overtime pay (usually 1.5 times the regular rate) for hours worked beyond 40 per week.

Benefits Often receive additional benefits, such as paid leave, health insurance, retirement plans, etc. May or may not receive benefits; this can greatly vary by employer and may be limited compared to salaried positions.
Work Hours Generally expected to complete tasks regardless of how many hours it takes, which may often be in excess of 40 hours per week without additional pay.

Work hours are typically tracked, and employees are compensated for the exact time they work, including overtime pay if applicable.

Job Stability May have greater job stability and could be entitled to a notice period before termination, depending on company policy. Often employed in positions with less job security and may be subject to fluctuations in work hours.
Wage Deductions Salary remains consistent and is not subject to deductions based on the quality or quantity of work performed in a given pay period (with some exceptions).

Wages can be deducted for time not worked, and total pay is directly tied to hours on the job.

Please note that this table outlines general differences between salaried and hourly employees in Tennessee. The specific circumstances for each category of employees can vary widely based on the employer, industry, job classification, and individual agreements. It’s important to consider these factors when making employment-related decisions or comparisons in the state.

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

Common Questions About Salaried Employee Rights in Tennessee

What are the Basic Rights of Salaried Employees in Tennessee?

Below are the fundamental rights and protections that a salaried employee should be aware of:

  • Right to a Minimum Salary: As per federal law standards, salaried employees in Tennessee are classified as “exempt” and must receive a minimum salary, which is updated periodically to adjust for inflation and other economic factors. This minimum salary requirement is to ensure that employees receive fair compensation, even if they do not qualify for overtime pay.
  • Overtime and Breaks: Generally, salaried employees classified as exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) are not eligible for overtime pay regardless of the number of hours worked. However, this exemption is based on specific job duties and salary, not just the fact that you receive a salary. Non-exempt salaried employees are entitled to overtime. Despite these federal guidelines, Tennessee doesn’t have a separate state law concerning breaks and meal periods, so the standard practice is to follow federal regulations, which do not necessitate breaks or meal periods but do stipulate that short breaks (usually 5-20 minutes) are compensable.
  • Safe Working Environment: Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), all employees in Tennessee have the right to a safe and healthful workplace. Employers are legally obligated to provide an environment free of known health and safety hazards.
  • Freedom from Discrimination: The Tennessee Human Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, creed, religion, sex, age, or national origin. Moreover, federal laws extend these protections to include other categories, such as pregnancy, disability, genetic information, and veteran status. Additionally, employers cannot make job decisions (hiring, firing, promotions, job assignments, etc.) based on these protected characteristics.
  • Medical and Family Leave (Under FMLA): Eligible employees in Tennessee have the right to unpaid, job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This can be used for specific family and medical reasons, such as the birth of a child or to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition. Tennessee doesn’t have a state-level equivalent to the FMLA, so employees in Tennessee must refer to the federal guidelines.
  • Right to Privacy: Employees have certain rights to privacy regarding personal possessions, including handbags or briefcases, private mail addressed only to employees, and storage lockers accessible only by the employee. However, these can vary based on the employer’s policies.
  • Protection Against Retaliation: Employees are protected against retaliation from employers for engaging in legally protected activities. This includes filing a complaint or participating in investigations about workplace legal violations, such as discrimination claims or safety concerns.
  • Unemployment and Workers’ Compensation: If you lose your job or are injured at work, you might be eligible for unemployment benefits or workers’ compensation in Tennessee. These programs provide temporary financial assistance in cases of job loss not due to misconduct, unforeseen layoffs, or work-related injuries or illness, helping to navigate challenging times.
  • Right to Discuss Wages: Under the National Labor Relations Act, most salaried employees have the right to engage in “concerted activities,” which can include the right to discuss the wages and working conditions with fellow colleagues for mutual aid or protection.

Each of these rights plays a crucial role in maintaining a balanced and fair workplace environment. Salaried employees should be aware of these entitlements and should not hesitate to seek legal counsel or contact relevant labor boards or organizations if they believe their rights have been violated. Staying informed and understanding these basic protections will help ensure that your employment is in line with the legal standards meant to safeguard your interests.

Is Overtime Pay Applicable to Salaried Employees in Tennessee?

The applicability of overtime pay for salaried employees in Tennessee hinges on specific classifications and criteria, primarily determined by federal regulations and state interpretations. Understanding these nuances is crucial for salaried employees, as it directly affects the compensation, benefits, and overall understanding of the employment rights.

Firstly, it’s essential to recognize the distinction between “exempt” and “non-exempt” employees. This classification, established by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), is a central factor in determining overtime eligibility. Exempt employees are not entitled to overtime pay, irrespective of the number of hours they work beyond the standard 40-hour workweek. Conversely, non-exempt employees must be compensated at one and a half times the regular pay rate for any hours worked over the standard 40 in a workweek, ensuring fair compensation.

The criteria for being considered an exempt employee are multifaceted. One must receive a salary (a predetermined amount of compensation regularly paid each pay period), meet a specific minimum salary level, and perform certain types of job duties, typically those that are managerial, administrative, or professional, as outlined by the FLSA. If all these conditions are met, the salaried employee is classified as exempt, and standard overtime rules do not apply.

However, if a salaried employee’s job duties or salary don’t meet the FLSA’s criteria for exempt status, they are classified as non-exempt. This classification means they are subject to overtime pay protections. On the other hand, non-exempt salaried employees are somewhat less common, but they exist, often in positions that require a fixed weekly work schedule and a consistent pay rate, with duties that don’t fit the managerial or professional exemption categories.

In scenarios where there’s ambiguity, the situation often arises from the duties test. For instance, if an employee’s role involves a mix of administrative and manual labor tasks, overtime may depend on what duties take up more work time, often requiring a closer examination. 

Moreover, it’s important to note that the state of Tennessee adheres to federal guidelines concerning overtime pay and doesn’t have separate state-specific laws in this regard. As such, understanding and applying the FLSA’s standards is crucial for both employers and employees.

Can Employers Deduct Wages from Salaried Employees?

Here’s a simplified overview of wage deductions for salaried employees in Tennessee

  • Mandatory Deductions: By law, employers can make certain deductions from a salaried employee’s paycheck. These mandatory one’s include Social Security, Medicare, and federal, state, and local taxes. These are non-negotiable and apply to all types of employees. 
  • Voluntary Deductions: Employers may also deduct amounts for health and life insurance premiums, retirement plan contributions, or other benefits if the employee has agreed to these. This agreement is usually part of the employment contract or the company’s standard policies.
  • Exempt Employees and Deductions: For employees classified as “exempt” under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the rules are stricter, demanding careful compliance. These employees must generally receive full salary, irrespective of the number of hours worked. There are a few exceptions, such as full-day absences for personal reasons, sickness beyond accrued sick leave, certain penalties, or unpaid disciplinary suspensions. However, employers simply cannot reduce exempt employees’ pay for variations in the quantity or quality of work.
  • Impermissible Deductions: Employers are not allowed to deduct from an exempt employee’s salary for partial-day absences, general work slowdowns, or when the employee is ready and willing to work but no work is available. Improper deductions might violate the FLSA and could change an employee’s exempt status, possibly making them eligible for overtime.

Are Salaried Employees Eligible for Breaks and Leaves in Tennessee?

In the workforce, particularly in Tennessee, understanding the employment rights, including eligibility for breaks and leaves, is crucial for salaried employees. These aspects are governed by a combination of federal and state laws, and while some regulations apply across the board, others specifically pertain to salaried employees based on their exempt or non-exempt status.

Meal and Rest Breaks

When it comes to breaks during the workday, Tennessee law specifies that employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal break if they are scheduled to work six consecutive hours. This break is not required to be paid and should ideally occur sometime after the first hour of work and before the last. However, this law exempts certain positions, often including professional, executive, and administrative roles, which many salaried employees fill. As for shorter breaks, often called “rest breaks” or “coffee breaks,” employers are not required by state law to provide these. If they do, federal law mandates that these breaks, usually lasting 5–20 minutes, be paid.

Sick Leaves, Vacation, and Other Paid Time Off

Tennessee employers are not required by state law to provide paid sick leave, vacation, or other forms of paid time off (PTO); these benefits are at the discretion of the employer. Often, salaried positions do include such benefits, varying widely from one employer to another. Employees are encouraged to fully understand these benefits as outlined in the employment contracts.

Family and Medical Leave

Regarding longer leaves of absence for medical or family reasons, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is pertinent nationwide, including in Tennessee, providing essential protections. This act allows eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons, ensuring the continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms as if they had not taken leave. Eligible employees are entitled to 12 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for various significant events, including the birth of a child, a serious health condition, or caring for an immediate family member with a serious health condition.

It’s crucial for salaried employees in Tennessee to recognize that while certain breaks and leaves are legally protected, others depend on company policy or employment contracts. For any concerns, consider referring to the human resources department or consult the employee handbook. In cases of discrepancies or legal issues, seeking legal counsel might be necessary to understand the full scope of employee rights regarding breaks and leaves in Tennessee.

Can Salaried Employees Request Flexible Work Arrangements in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, as in many states across the United States, the evolution of the workplace has seen a significant shift, especially with the challenges and the transformation brought about by global events such as the COVID-19 pandemic. This change has propelled the concept of flexible work arrangements into the forefront of employment discussions, profoundly impacting salaried (as well as hourly) employees’ expectations and experiences in the dynamic workplace.

For salaried employees in Tennessee, it’s important to understand that state-specific legislation may not explicitly guarantee the right to request flexible work arrangements. Employment policies are often at the discretion of individual employers. In many cases, companies maintain traditional policies that adhere to the standard business hours, work settings, and employment structures. However, there’s a growing trend, partly due to global circumstances and evolving work cultures, where employers are becoming more open to such arrangements.

Employees interested in flexible work arrangements may have the opportunity to request changes in the schedule, work location, or other aspects. The key to initiating this process is often a direct discussion with the employer. It’s advisable to approach this conversation professionally, presenting a well-thought-out proposal that outlines how the flexible arrangement will not only benefit you as the employee but also serve the employer’s interests, such as by boosting productivity, reducing office space, or enhancing employee retention rates.

It’s also crucial for employees to understand the company’s stance on flexible working policies by referring to an employee handbook. If the company already has an established framework for handling such requests, the process can be more straightforward. Employees might need to submit a formal application or discuss their requests during performance reviews.

While there’s no statewide mandate in Tennessee requiring all employers to grant flexible work arrangements, some legal considerations can influence this aspect of employment. For instance, under the FLSA, there might be stipulations that affect work hours and compensation, especially for non-exempt workers. Moreover, employees covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) could be entitled to flexible work arrangements as a reasonable accommodation.

Understanding Exempt vs. Non-Exempt Status in Tennessee

What is the Definition of Exempt Status in Tennessee?

The definition of “exempt” status for employees in Tennessee refers to a legal classification under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that identifies certain types of employees who are exempt from specific wage and hour protections, most notably, overtime pay requirements. Exempt employees, often in professional, administrative, or executive roles, are not entitled to overtime pay regardless of the number of hours worked within a workweek because their duties, and often salary, meet criteria set by the FLSA. This classification contrasts with non-exempt employees, who are eligible for overtime pay and certain other wage protections.

What are the Implications of Exempt Status in Tennessee?

Exempt status for salaried employees in Tennessee primarily involves forgoing certain protections offered by the FLSA, especially concerning overtime pay. Employees classified as exempt are not entitled to overtime pay, no matter how many hours they work per week. This classification depends on specific job duties and salary thresholds as outlined by federal law.

  • No Overtime Pay: One of the most direct implications of being an exempt employee is the lack of overtime pay. Tennessee follows federal guidelines in this aspect, meaning that if you’re an exempt employee, you’re not eligible for the time-and-a-half pay rate for hours worked beyond the standard 40-hour. This could lead to scenarios where exempt employees might work long hours during busy periods without any compensation, which is a significant consideration.
  • Fixed Salary: Exempt employees in Tennessee usually receive a fixed salary, which simplifies payroll calculations but also means compensation doesn’t fluctuate with the number of hours worked, whether fewer or more than the standard 40-hour workweek. This fixed salary must meet a minimum specified threshold to maintain exempt status. The benefit is that salary amounts are consistent and predictable, which aids in personal financial planning.
  • Limited Protections Under State Laws: While the FLSA provides the framework for exemption, Tennessee state laws don’t expand additional protections to exempt employees. In other words, the state doesn’t counterbalance the FLSA’s exemption with added employee rights specific to work hours, breaks, or overtime for these salaried workers. As such, the working conditions and benefits for exempt employees rest largely on the terms agreed upon with the employer/company, making it essential to negotiate terms before accepting a position.
  • Flexibility in Work Hours: Exempt status often comes with a degree of flexibility. Since these employees are salaried and don’t clock in and out, there’s generally more freedom regarding work hours, allowing for a better work-life balance. For instance, an exempt employee might be able to take a longer lunch break or adjust their start and finish times to accommodate personal obligations as long as work duties are fulfilled and performance expectations are met.
  • Job Security and Benefits: Exempt positions often include access to extensive job benefits, including health insurance, retirement plans, paid time off, and possibly bonuses or profit-sharing plans. These roles also tend to offer more job security, as they’re typically higher-level positions within a company. However, it’s essential to note that job security and benefits vary by employer and are subject to the terms of employment contracts.

What are the Differences Between Exempt and Non-Exempt Salaried Employees in Tennessee?

Key Differences

Exempt Employee Non-Exempt Employee
Overtime Pay Not entitled to overtime pay regardless of the number of hours worked.

Entitled to overtime pay, typically one and a half times the regular rate, for hours worked beyond the standard 40-hour. 

Salary Basis Generally receive a fixed salary that meets a minimum federal threshold, regardless of the number of hours worked.

May receive a salary, but it must be at least the federal or state minimum wage, and overtime provisions still apply.

Job Duties Typically perform specific job duties classified under executive, administrative, professional, outside sales, or certain computer jobs, as defined by the FLSA.

Job duties do not fall within the exempt categories outlined by the FLSA.

Work Hours Work hours can be flexible, and they are expected to complete tasks irrespective of the time it takes. Work hours are tracked, and employees are compensated for the total hours worked, including receiving overtime for hours beyond the standard workweek.
Breaks and Rest Periods Not entitled to breaks or rest periods under federal law, though employers may offer them at their discretion.

May be entitled to meal or rest breaks, which are unpaid or paid, depending on the length of the break and state law.

Minimum Wage Must be paid on a salary basis at not less than $684 per week (as of the last update in 2022), and this salary cannot be reduced based on the quality or quantity of work.

Must receive at least the federal or state minimum wage for all hours worked.

Please note that employment laws in Tennessee are dynamic. The above table provides a general comparison of the basic definitions, entitlements, protections, and other distinctions between exempt and non-exempt employees in Tennessee. However, it’s important to consult the latest state and federal regulations or seek legal advice for more up-to-date information.

How to Determine if You’re Exempt or Non-Exempt in Tennessee?

Determining whether you’re an exempt or non-exempt employee is crucial because it affects your wage structure and rights under employment law. Here’s how you can navigate this:

  • Understand the Criteria: First, it’s important to understand the basic criteria that differentiate exempt and non-exempt employees. The FLSA sets specific thresholds for duty, salary level, and salary basis to qualify for exempt status. For an employee to be considered exempt, they typically must be earning at least $684 per week ($35,568 per year), be paid on a salary basis, and perform certain types of job duties. These duties often fall into executive, administrative, or professional categories, each with its own specific requirements.
  • Evaluate Your Job Duties: Secondly, look at your actual job responsibilities. Your job title alone is not sufficient for this determination; it’s the duties you perform that matter. If your responsibilities include management tasks, decision-making authority, or specialized professional functions, you might fall into the exempt category. Generally, if you have a significant say in company operations or business decisions, you’re more likely to be exempt.
  • Consider Your Salary: The way you’re paid is a key indicator. Exempt employees usually receive a set salary, which doesn’t fluctuate based on the number of hours worked each week. This salary should meet the minimum threshold as per federal law. On the other hand, non-exempt employees are often paid hourly and receive overtime pay for any hours worked beyond the standard 40-hour workweek. If you’re receiving a salary, make sure it meets the minimum requirement for exempt status, crucial for proper classification and associated rights.
  • Consult Your Employee Handbook or HR: Your company’s employee handbook may contain information about employee classifications. If the handbook is unclear, your HR department can provide clarification as well as explain the criteria and implications.
  • Check Federal and State Laws: Refer to the United States Department of Labor for federal guidelines on exempt status. While Tennessee state follows federal law, it’s always good to keep an eye out for any state-specific guidelines or changes that might affect your employment status.
  • Seek Professional Advice: If you’re still unsure about your exempt or non-exempt status, you may want to seek advice from a labor lawyer or a professional well-versed in employment law. They can provide guidance based on the most recent laws and help you understand your rights and any recourse you might have if you believe you’ve been misclassified.

Remember, being classified correctly is not only important for determining overtime eligibility in Tennessee but also for other aspects of employment, such as minimum wage and other legal protections. It’s important to take proactive steps to understand your employment classification and, if necessary, to advocate for your rights if there’s any discrepancy in your status.

Wage and Hour Regulations in Tennessee

What are the Minimum Wage Requirements for Salaried Employees in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, understanding the minimum wage requirements is essential, especially considering the distinctions between exempt and non-exempt statuses. As of the current standards, Tennessee adheres to the federal minimum wage guidelines since the state itself doesn’t mandate a separate minimum wage. The federal minimum wage stands at $7.25/hour.

Now, when it comes to salaried employees in Tennessee, particularly those who are exempt from overtime, the rules are slightly different. Per federal law, to qualify as an exempt employee in the state, individuals typically must meet certain job duties criteria and be paid on a salary basis at not less than $684 per week or $35,568 annually. This salary threshold is crucial because it’s one of the primary factors that determine if an employee is exempt from overtime pay.

The $684 per week benchmark in Tennessee means that, regardless of the number of hours worked, the employee must receive that amount in any workweek where work was performed. This standard is in place to ensure that employers do not take unfair advantage of salaried workers by requiring excessively long work hours without appropriate compensation.

For those who fall under the non-exempt category, the protection is different. Non-exempt salaried employees must earn at least the federal minimum wage for each hour worked, and they are entitled to overtime pay at a rate of one and a half times the regular pay for hours worked beyond the standard 40-hour workweek, ensuring fair compensation for extended work.

It’s also important for employees in Tennessee to note that certain positions, including executive, administrative, and professional roles, often fall into the exempt category, provided they meet the salary basis test and a duties test. These specific roles are identified as exempt because they typically involve high-level tasks that come with more significant responsibility and discretion, aligning with the salary and duties criteria set forth by the U.S Department of Labor.

How is Overtime Compensated for Salaried Employees in Tennessee?

For salaried employees in Tennessee, understanding how overtime compensation works is crucial as it directly impacts their earnings and work-life balance. Overtime compensation can differ based on whether you’re classified as an exempt or non-exempt employee, and it’s grounded in the guidelines established by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Starting with non-exempt employees, the rules are more straightforward. If you are a non-exempt salaried employee, you are entitled to overtime pay for hours worked beyond the standard 40-hour workweek. This overtime is calculated at a rate of one and a half times your regular pay rate. To determine your hourly rate, your salary is broken down into an equivalent hourly rate (your total annual salary divided by the number of work hours in the year). Then, for every hour you work past 40 in a workweek, you should receive 1.5 times that regular hourly rate. This structure ensures that non-exempt employees are compensated for the additional strains that extended work hours can place on their personal time and professional workload.

In contrast, if you are an exempt employee in Tennessee, the situation is quite different. For example, exempt salaried employees do not receive extra pay for hours worked beyond the standard 40-hour workweek. This is because the salary of exempt employees is meant to compensate them fully for all hours worked, whether fewer or greater than 40 in a week. Exempt employees usually occupy executive, administrative, or professional positions, which come with more responsibilities and a higher degree of job flexibility. The nature of these roles is such that they are measured by accomplishment rather than hours worked, and the law recognizes that these positions should be compensated with a salary that reflects this level of responsibility.

However, it’s essential  to know your correct employment classification. Misclassification can lead to situations where salaried employees are deprived of the overtime wages they are legally owed. If you’re unsure of your status or believe you’re incorrectly classified, it’s important to consult with your company’s human resources department. If discrepancies persist, seeking legal advice can help clarify your position and ensure you’re receiving fair compensation.

Deductions, Benefits, and Protections in Tennessee

What are the Permissible Deductions from Salaried Employee Pay in- Tennessee?

In Tennessee, as in other states, employers can make certain deductions from a salaried employee’s paycheck. However, these deductions must comply with federal and state laws to ensure workers’ rights are protected. Understanding these permissible deductions is important to ensure that your paychecks reflect accurate earnings and lawful withholdings.

  • Tax Withholdings: One of the most common deductions are those required by law, including state, federal, and local taxes. The federal government requires withholding for Social Security and Medicare, often referred to as FICA taxes. There is no state income tax on wages in Tennessee, ensuring slightly higher take-home pay, but there is a federal obligation.
  • Retirement and Pension Contributions: If your employer offers a retirement plan, such as a 401(k), any contributions you elect to make to such plans will be deducted from your paycheck. These contributions are typically pre-tax deductions, meaning they reduce your taxable income.
  • Health, Dental, and Life Insurance Premiums: Premiums for employer-sponsored insurance programs are often deducted from employees’ paychecks. While participation is typically optional, once an employee enrolls in such a program, the deductions are automatic.
  • Repayment of Wage Advances or Loans: If you’ve received a loan or wage advance from your employer, they may deduct the amounts owed from your monthly paycheck. However, such arrangements, as well as the deductions, should be explicitly agreed upon in writing by both parties to avoid any future disputes and ensure clear, mutual understanding throughout. 
  • Child Support and Garnishments: In Tennessee, these are court-ordered deductions and could be a result of legal judgments against the employee, like child support, alimony, or other financial obligations. Employers are legally bound to withhold these amounts from a salaried employee’s paycheck and distribute the funds as directed by the court order in the state. 
  • Uniforms or Equipment: In some cases, employers might deduct costs for uniforms or specific equipment necessary for your job. However, these deductions should not reduce your earnings below the minimum wage and should be agreed upon by the salaried employee.
  • Job-related Expenses: Occasionally, employees may incur various job-related expenses, such as costs for certain certifications or education required for their positions. If these expenses are to be borne by the employee, the deduction must be agreed upon explicitly by the worker.

It’s critical to know that certain deductions are not permissible. Employers cannot, for instance, deduct any shortages or damages caused by employees or fines for lateness or misconduct, especially if these deductions reduce an employee’s pay below the minimum wage. Furthermore, it’s essential to regularly review your pay stubs and be aware of the deductions being made. 

If there are questionable or unauthorized deductions, immediately address these issues with your employer or human resources department. In situations where disputes over deductions cannot be internally resolved, employees may seek legal counsel or contact the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development for guidance and assistance.

What are the Provided Employee Benefits and Protections Under Tennessee State Law?

In Tennessee, employees, whether salaried or hourly, are entitled to certain benefits and protections under state law. These statutes are in place to ensure a safe, fair, and equitable working environment. While some benefits are federally mandated and apply to most workers nationwide, others are specific to Tennessee, shaping the local workforce’s landscape.

Here’s a detailed look at the key benefits and protections provided to employees in the state:

  • Workers’ Compensation: Tennessee law requires most employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance to cover salaried employees in case of work-related injuries or illnesses. This essential insurance by the employer provides benefits like medical treatment and a portion of lost wages if an employee gets hurt or sick because of the job, ensuring financial support.
  • Unemployment Insurance: If you lose your job through no fault of your own, such as in situations of layoffs, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits under Tennessee law. These benefits are designed to partially replace lost wages and are accessible to workers who meet specific eligibility requirements regarding their previous employment and earnings.
  • Health Insurance: While health insurance benefits are largely regulated at the federal level, especially under the Affordable Care Act, Tennessee does have laws that impact aspects of health coverage. For instance, state laws regulate matters like the continuation of health coverage (similar to COBRA) and mandate that certain treatments be covered by insurers.
  • Family and Medical Leave: Employers with 50 or more employees in Tennessee are subject to the federal FMLA, which allows eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. This leave includes the continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.
  • Pregnancy and Parental Leave: Under Tennessee law, employers that employ 100 or more full-time employees are required to provide up to four months of leave for adoption, pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing an infant— an addition to the federal benefits provided under FMLA.
  • Jury Duty and Voting Leave: Employees in Tennessee are entitled to take time off work for jury duty (jobs are protected in their absence). Additionally, employees have the right to take a reasonable period of unpaid leave to vote in any municipal, county, state, or federal election.
  • Minimum Wage and Overtime Pay: Tennessee defers to federal law regarding minimum wage and overtime pay. Employers are required to pay non-exempt employees at least the federal minimum wage and provide overtime pay of 1.5 times the regular rate for any hours worked beyond 40 in a workweek, maintaining equitable compensation standards.
  • Protection Against Discrimination and Harassment: Tennessee employees are protected under state and federal laws against discrimination and harassment in the workplace based on race, color, national origin, sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions), age, disability, culture/religion, veteran status, or genetic information.

Taking Action Against Violations in Tennessee

How to Report Violations to Authorities or the Tennessee Division of Labor?

Here’s how you can report violations to the authorities or the Tennessee Division of Labor:

  • Document Everything: Before you make a report, gather all relevant documents. This might include pay stubs, emails, witness statements, or any other evidence that supports your claim. Be sure to note specific dates, times, and the nature of the potential violations. Having detailed records can strengthen your case and help the authorities investigate more effectively.
  • Understand the Complaint Process: The Tennessee Division of Labor and Workforce Development has a specific process for handling complaints. You may be required to fill out a formal complaint form detailing your personal information, your employment details, and the account of the alleged violation. It’s important to be as clear and detailed as possible.
  • File Your Complaint: You can file your complaint in several ways. Often, the most direct method is through the Tennessee Division of Labor’s website, where you can find the necessary forms and contact information. Additionally, complaints can be filed by mail or in person. If you’re unsure about the process, you can also call the Division’s helpline for guidance.
  • Federal Violations: If your complaint involves federal labor law (such as minimum wage, overtime eligibility, or family and medical leave violations), you might need to contact the United States Department of Labor (DOL). The DOL enforces federal labor standards and can take action if your rights under these laws have been violated. Like with state complaints, be prepared to provide detailed information and any supporting documentation.
  • Seek Legal Advice: In some situations, it might be beneficial to consult with an attorney who specializes in labor law. Legal counsel can offer guidance tailored to your specific circumstances, help you navigate the complaint process, and provide representation if necessary. This step is important if you believe you may face retaliation or if the violation affects multiple employees.
  • Follow-Up: After you’ve filed your complaint, make sure to diligently follow up. Keep track of all communications, and don’t hesitate to reach out to the Division of Labor for updates on your case. Persistence can be crucial in these situations, ensuring your voice is heard.

Remember, Tennessee law prohibits retaliation by employers against employees who report violations or assert their rights under labor laws. If you experience retaliation, that can constitute a new violation to report and pursue. Standing up for your rights is important, not just for your own workplace conditions but also to uphold standards for all workers in the state.

Case Studies and Real-Life Scenarios of Salaried Employee Rights Violations in Tennessee

Age and Disability Discrimination: Knox County Official Accused of Age and Disability Discrimination in Federal Lawsuits

Two former employees have filed federal lawsuits against Knox County, alleging that Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond engaged in age and disability discrimination. Kathy Diane Lewis, 63, and Christine Dumais, 64, emphatically claim that Hammond used the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to lay them off and replace them with younger women he had met socially.

According to the lawsuits, Lewis vs. Knox County and Dumais vs. Knox County, both women were long-term dedicated employees of the clerk’s office, having maintained satisfactory performance and excellent attendance since 2009. However, they allege that during the pandemic, Hammond, who took office in 2014, laid them off to facilitate the hiring of younger, inexperienced women, some of whom he had met at local bars and entertainment venues.

The legal complaints detail that after the Tennessee Supreme Court limited court operations in March 2020, Hammond allowed employees over 60 or those with certain medical conditions to work remotely or take time off. Both Lewis and Dumais, who had relevant medical conditions, were subsequently placed on leave and then furloughed. They were confidently assured they would return to work in July 2020, but Hammond later unexpectedly extended this furlough.

Despite promises of re-employment and claims that the furlough selections were made based on who would benefit most financially, neither Lewis nor Dumais was reinstated. Instead, they allege that younger employees with no prior experience were not only hired but also quickly promoted and given substantial pay raises, reflecting a possible pattern of age preference.

Key Takeaways from the Case
  • Employers must diligently avoid discriminatory practices based on age or disability, as these are protected categories under federal law, ensuring fair treatment and equal opportunities for all.
  • Situations of layoffs or furloughs require a fair criteria to prevent potential legal issues.
  • Employees should be vigilant and consider legal recourse if they suspect unjust treatment.
  • It’s essential for individuals in positions of authority to avoid any conflicts of interest, such as hiring acquaintances or making professional decisions based on personal relationships.

Wage Theft: Nashville's Strategic Hospitality and M Street Settle for $1.03 Million in Employee Wage Theft Cases

Strategic Hospitality and M Street Entertainment Group, two major players in Nashville, Tennessee’s restaurant scene, recently settled their high-profile wage theft cases, agreeing to pay out a combined $1.03 million. These settlements come after employees levied serious accusations against their employers in the lawsuits “Smith vs. Strategic Hospitality” and “Fenwick vs. M Street Entertainment Group.” The workers alleged illegal practices, including inappropriate tip pooling and failure to pay federally mandated minimum wages.

Strategic Hospitality has agreed to settle the disputes for $427,000, distributing various amounts to 261 affected employees. In a similar vein, M Street resolved to settle for $600,000, covering damages and back wages for 242 staff members. Despite these agreements, both companies staunchly deny any wrongdoing. They assert that the legal actions are part of a broader, exploitative trend where law firms strategically target restaurants, particularly those weakened by the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic impacts, seeking vulnerable targets.

These cases underscore a rampant issue in the restaurant industry, drawing attention to the frequent mishandling of wages and tips. They have ignited a call for more stringent adherence to fair labor standards and have emphasized the need for transparent, honest communication between employers and employees regarding wage protocols, ensuring fair practices.

Key Takeaways from the Case
  • Employers are reminded to adhere to labor laws, ensuring all practices around tipping and minimum wages are compliant with current federal standards, avoiding potential legal issues.
  • The importance of transparent and clear policies regarding wage calculation and tip distribution is highlighted, suggesting regular internal reviews could prevent potential legal issues.
  • These settlements clearly demonstrate that legal confrontations can lead to substantial financial payouts, significantly harm business reputations, and cause serious operational disruptions.
  • The growing national focus on wage theft in the hospitality sector in the United States signals a crucial period for businesses to proactively reassess and correct their internal wage practices.
  • For salaried employees in Tennessee, these cases emphasize the importance of understanding one’s rights within the workplace and the power of legal recourse in addressing grievances.

Final Thoughts

In Tennessee, salaried employees have distinct rights, and understanding them, including exemptions and employer obligations, is crucial. Amid changing labor landscapes, staying informed about state and federal laws helps employees navigate workplace challenges. Advocating for oneself and seeking legal counsel when rights are infringed ensures the protection and fair treatment integral to every worker’s dignity and professional welfare.

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 to 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 the use of this guide.