Tennessee Whistleblower Laws

Whistleblower Laws as they apply to the state of Tennessee

A Summary of Tennessee Whistleblower Laws

Tennessee is an employment-at-will state. This means employees can be discharged from work for any reason or no reason. However, there are a few exceptions to this doctrine that are used to protect employees from wrongful retaliation. These exceptions include common law protections and statutory protections. Statutory protections are laws that are enacted by the state’s legislature to address specific subject areas, e.g., workers’ compensation, whereas common law protections are laws that are created by courts to address subject areas that are not covered by enacted laws.

This is a summary of Tennessee Whistleblower Laws, make sure to check out the Federal Whistleblower Laws as well.

Table Of Contents

Whistleblower Rights in Tennessee

Common Law Protections for Whistleblowers in Tennessee

Tennessee has a public policy that is applied as an exception to the employment-at-will doctrine. Therefore, it is illegal for employers to discharge an employee for reasons that violate public policy. To determine whether an employee is eligible for protection under the state’s public policy, the courts usually rely on statutory protections, constitutional provisions, and prior judicial opinions. For example, if a statute endorses a worker’s right to file a workers’ compensation claim, an employer who discharges an employee in retaliation for exercising such a right may be found guilty of violating public policy. Generally, Tennessee protects employees who engage in the following activities from wrongful discharge:

  • Refusing to commit perjury.
  • Refusing to violate safety laws.
  • Exercising meal break and rest rights.
  • Filing a claim for workers’ compensation benefits.
  • Serving on a jury.

The state of Tennessee regards common law protections as standalone protections that supplement statutory protections. This means statutory protections do not override common law protections. Therefore, aggrieved employees can file a claim under both protections.

Statutory Protections for Whistleblowers in Tennessee

Public Protection Act

It is against the law to discharge or terminate an employee in retaliation for:

  • Refusing to participate in illegal activities.
  • Reporting illegal activities.

Under this statute, illegal activities refer to activities that violate federal and state criminal or civil codes or any regulation intended to protect public safety and welfare. Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-1-304.

Education Truth in Reporting and Employee Protection Act of 1989

No person or employer is allowed to discipline or threaten to discipline any person who reports information under this act. Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-50-1409.

Discrimination

It is considered a discriminatory practice for a person to in any way discriminate against an individual in retaliation for:

  • Opposing discriminatory practices.
  • Making a charge or filing a complaint under this statute.
  • Testifying or participating in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this statute.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-301(1).

False Information

No person is allowed to take any adverse action against an employee in retaliation for reporting in good faith that another person has allegedly provided false information concerning government spending to a government agency. Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-4-409.

State Employees

It is against the law to discharge, demote, suspend, alter terms of employment, or in any way discriminate against a state employee in retaliation for reporting or intending to report:

  • A violation of state or federal law, rule, or regulation by a person, agency, or contractor or the willful efforts of a person, agency, or contractor to carry out such a violation.
  • Acts of fraud against the public, state or federal government, or fellow employees.
  • Misappropriation of state or federal resources.
  • Activities that endanger the safety and health of the public or fellow employees.
  • Gross mismanagement of a program, gross waste of state or federal funds, or gross abuse of authority.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-50-116.

Sex Discrimination in Wages

Employers are not allowed to discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for taking an action to invoke or assist in the enforcement of this statute. Under this statute, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against their employees by paying a certain wage to employees of a certain sex even though employees of both sexes are working comparable jobs. Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-2-202(c).

Labor

It is unlawful for any person, firm, or corporation to enter into a contract or agreement that allows for the discharge of a person from employment because the person refused to join or affiliate with any labor union. Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-1-202.  

Lawful Employment Act

No person is allowed to retaliate against an individual in retaliation for reporting a violation of this act. The lawful employment act prohibits, among other things, the hiring of illegal migrants who have not been verified by the state’s E-Verify program. Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-1-706.

Occupational Safety and Health

No person is allowed to discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Filing a complaint under this statute.
  • Instituting or causing the institution of a proceeding under this statute.
  • Testifying or intending to testify in a proceeding under this statute.
  • Exercising a right afforded by this statute on behalf of himself, herself, or others.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-3-409(a).

Nursing Homes

No nursing home or home for the aged is allowed to discriminate against an individual in retaliation for filing a complaint, providing information, or cooperating with any agency of government or entity that is responsible for protecting the rights of residents of nursing homes or homes for the aged. Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-11-903.

Whistleblower Retaliation Claims in Tennessee

Unless stated otherwise, retaliation lawsuits should be filed within 1 year of the retaliatory action.

Sex Discrimination in Wages

Lawsuits under this statute should be filed within 2 years of the retaliatory action.

Public Protection Act

Lawsuits under this act should be filed within 1 year of the retaliatory action.

Discrimination

Complaints under this statute should be filed with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission (THRC) within 180 days of the retaliatory action. Also, complainants can choose to file a lawsuit in the appropriate court. Lawsuits under this statute should be filed within 1 year of the retaliatory action.

Occupational Safety and Health

Complaints under this statute should be filed with the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development within 180 days of the retaliatory action.

Whistleblower Hotlines in Tennessee

To file a complaint with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission, call (800) 251-3589.

To file a complaint with the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development, call (844) 224-5818.

Whistleblower Retaliation and Violation Penalties in Tennessee

Unless stated otherwise by a statute, employers who carry out unlawful retaliation against an employee may be liable to the aggrieved employee for a combination or any of the following remedies:

  • Reinstatement or rehiring.
  • Payment of back wages.
  • Reinstatement of full fringe benefits and seniority rights.
  • Actual damages.
  • Litigation costs, including reasonable attorney’s fees.
  • Plus any other appropriate relief.

Public Protection Act

Employers who violate this statute may be liable to the aggrieved employee for damages to which the employee may be entitled and reasonable attorney’s fees.

Education Truth in Reporting and Employee Protection Act of 1989

Employers who violate this statute may be liable to the aggrieved employee for a combination or any of the following remedies:

  • Reinstatement.
  • Payment of back wages.
  • Reinstatement of full fringe benefits and seniority rights.
  • Actual damages.
  • Litigation costs, including reasonable attorney’s fees.

Discrimination

Employers who violate this statute may be liable to the aggrieved employee for a combination or any of the following remedies:

  • Hiring, reinstatement, or promotion with or without back pay.
  • Admission or restoration of the complainant to the appropriate occupational training or retraining program.
  • Payment of damages.
  • Extension of privileges, advantages, and facilities.
  • Plus any other relief deemed appropriate.

Sex Discrimination in Wages

Employers who violate this statute may be found guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. In addition, they may be liable to the aggrieved employee for:

  1. First Violation

Unpaid wages, and in case the employer is found guilty of knowingly violating this statute, he or she may be liable for liquidated damages of an equal amount as the unpaid wages.

  1. Second Violation

Unpaid wages, and in case the employer is found guilty of knowingly violating this statute, he or she may be liable for additional liquidated damages 2 times the amount of unpaid wages.

  1. Third Violation

Unpaid wages, and in case the employer is found guilty of knowingly violating this statute, he or she may be liable for additional liquidated damages 3 times the amount of unpaid wages.

The court may also award court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees to the plaintiff.

False Information

Persons who violate this statute may be found guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.

State Employees

Employers who violate this statute may be liable to the aggrieved employee for a combination or any of the following remedies:

  • Actual damages.
  • Injunctive relief.
  • Reinstatement.
  • Payment of back wages.
  • Reinstatement of full fringe benefits and seniority rights.
  • Litigation costs, including reasonable attorney’s fees.

Labor

Violators of this statute may be found guilty of a Class Misdemeanor. Each day that a violation continues will be considered a separate and distinct offense.

Occupational Safety and Health

Employers who violate this statute may be liable to the aggrieved employee for:

  • Rehiring or reinstatement with back pay.
  • Plus any other relief deemed appropriate.

More Tennessee Laws

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