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January 2021

Tennessee Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

On June 22, 2020, Governor Bill Lee signed the Tennessee Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. The bill went into effect on October 1, 2020.

The Act applies to employers with fifteen or more employees and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for medical conditions arising from an employee’s or applicant’s pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. As with other accommodation and non-discrimination laws, the Act prohibits adverse action against an employee for requesting or using a reasonable accommodation under this Act. This is defined to specifically include a prohibition against employers counting an absence related to pregnancy under the employer’s no fault attendance policy.

Reasonable Accommodations
The Act includes specific listed reasonable accommodations, including more frequent, longer, or flexible breaks, and modification of the work schedule.

The Act also provides a list of accommodations that are not required, unless the employer would provide such an accommodation for other (i.e., not pregnant) employees. If an employer would not provide the accommodation for other employees, the employer is not required to:

  • Hire new employees that the employer would not have otherwise hired;
  • Discharge an employee, transfer another employee with more seniority, or promote another employee who is not qualified to perform the new job;
  • Create a new position, including a light duty position for the employee, unless a light duty position would be provided for another equivalent employee;
  • Compensate an employee for more frequent or longer break periods, unless the employee uses a break period that would otherwise be compensation; or
  • Construct a permanent, dedicated space for expressing milk.

The Act specifically prohibits an employer from requiring an employee to take leave if another reasonable accommodation is available to accommodate an employee’s pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

Undue Hardship
Employers are not required to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees or applicants if the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business. An “undue hardship” is defined to mean an action requiring “significant” difficulty or expense.

If an employer requires medical documentation from other employees requesting a reasonable accommodation, an employer may so require for employees with medical needs related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions if the requested accommodation is related to a temporary transfer to a vacant position, job restructuring, light duty, or time away. During the period in which an employee is seeking medical documentation, an employer must begin the interactive process in good faith.

Within one year from the date of the alleged adverse action, any person adversely affected by this Act may bring a civil action or an action under the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act against the employer. Potential damages include back pay, compensatory damages, prejudgment interest, reasonable attorneys’ fees, and other legal or equitable relief.

It is important for employers to update employee handbooks, policies, and procedures to be consistent with the Tennessee Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. If you have questions regarding these or other employment laws, please reach out and let us know how we can help you.

Employment Law

Samantha C. Gerken
Heather M. Gwinn

Employment Law