One of life’s greatest pleasures is the ability to work and earn a living by one’s own labors. Many Tennessee residents spend years training and getting educated to take advantage of the opportunity to do work they can feel proud of doing. Others work for the sense of accomplishment that follows a job well done. Many work for the simple joy of being paid fairly for their labors. No matter the underlying motivations or goals of working, every Tennessee employee is given legal rights in their workplace. The attorneys at Hodges, Doughty & Carson, PLLC. will make sure they will.
The issues surrounding employment can be both a blessing and a curse, especially during times of conflict at the workplace. Some conflicts can be resolved by consulting a human resources guideline, or by compromising with one’s superiors or customers. The types of conflicts that the law protects come from a much more fundamental set of rights to workplace dignity, compensation, and the rules surrounding hiring and firing practices.
What areas does Tennessee employment law cover?
Employment law covers several areas relating to the exchange of service or labor for compensation. Whether the working relationship is considered to have an employee-employer or independent contractor status, or if it is at-will or contractual, or something in between, employment law is a large area covering the many different ways that people work together. In its broadest terms, employment law discusses classifying, compensating, beginning, and ending workplace relationships. Within that overarching umbrella, the discrimination of protected classes of people is covered.
At the beginning of an employment relationship, the employer and employee agree to either employment-at-will versus contractual employment. According to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development defines employment-at-will designation as “generally mean(ing) 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.” This designation does not affect pay but it does affect the terms of the employee-employer relationship. While the employer has the discretion to make hiring and firing decisions, the employee is also free to quit the job for any reason, or for no reason at all.
Tennessee law does limit the scope of the at-will relationship. In addition to Federal Title VII prohibitions described later, “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.”
On the other hand, a contractual employment agreement sets out the terms for the employer-employee relationship. The contract must be reasonable, but can include terms regarding non-competition, confidentiality, and the conditions under which the employer-employee relationship may terminate. Conflict over reasonability relating to non-competition’s radius, dimension, and specific terms require evidence of competing business in the area and availability of work. The plaintiff, that is, the person filing the claim, has the burden of proof to show either reasonableness or otherwise.
Compensation of wages
Compensation of wages in exchange for services provided is the primary agreement of any employer-employee relationship. When an employee agrees to provide labor or services, the employee has a reasonable expectation rooted in the law to receive compensation for the work done. Depending on the employee’s classification as either an hourly or salaried employee, the law designates how to compensate employees.
The reasons why that exchange does not always go smoothly can vary wildly between industries. Employers may refer to the business experiencing a slow-down, or point to a larger economic downturn, and some may defend themselves by referring to the terms of a contract.
Changes to the amount compensated, pay-scale differences between genders or co-workers performing the same job, and final paychecks are all separate issues falling under the compensation laws.
Working with an experienced employment law attorneys allows employees the benefit of having someone who understands the process of gathering evidence in a wage-and-hour dispute.
Overtime and back wages
One other issue raised with wage-and-hour claims is the break or rest period. Whether your work requires a rest period during the workday also depends on the classification of hourly versus salaried employees. A salaried employee is also known as “exempt.” The exemption refers to the employer’s obligation to observe the hourly wage and hour laws, which includes rest periods. Therefore, generally, but not always, the salaried employee is exempt from receiving overtime.
For the hourly wage earner, the way that the employer calculates the rest period is critical for determining whether back wages or overtime compensation is due. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development states that, “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 independent contractor should not have to deal with any of these issue, as the contractor maintains control over the manner in which the work is finished. However, some workplaces have misclassified employees as independent contractors in order to avoid the rest period and wage-and-hour claims.
Discrimination and Harassment
Both state and federal laws protect applicants, employees, and third-parties from being harassed in the workplace. Under the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, “it is the State’s policy to provide an environment free of discrimination and harassment of an individual because of that person’s race, color, national origin, age (40 and over), sex, pregnancy, religion, creed, disability, veteran’s status or any other category protected by state and/or federal civil rights laws.” The most common type of harassment is sexual harassment, but any actions that undermine the authority of another employee or base promotion decisions on a protected class can rise to the level of impermissible activity. Protected classifications in discrimination for hiring and promotion include those listed above. Employees who feel they have been the subject of discrimination or harassment in the workplace should know they have rights to dispute the results from working in a hostile, harassing, or discriminatory work environment. Speak to a competent and experienced employment law attorney for more information about your rights.
The attorneys and staff of Hodges, Doughty, & Carson PLLC are here to help answer your questions about Tennessee employment law. Please do not hesitate to reach out and talk to someone today.
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