Tennessee Labor Laws

Tennessee Labor Law – Meal Breaks

Neither United States law nor Tennessee state law requires employers to provide individuals with meal breaks. Companies and businesses can legally require that employees work ten or more hours without a break. However, most employers do provide breaks within six hours of beginning a shift. This break is normally unpaid and requires individuals to clock off.

Company policy will normally also state how long the break is allowed, usually between thirty minutes and one hour. Throughout the days some employers also provide short, ten-minute breaks that are paid to increase efficiency.

Family Leave

Instead of creating its own law in regard to personal, family, or medical leave, the state of Tennessee uses federal law set for the entire nation. In 1993 the federal government created an act to care for individuals’ employment while they are able to take a leave of absence to care for the needs of themselves or their family members.

This act is called the Family and Medical Leave Act and includes reasons for caring for elderly parents, caring for ill children, hospitalization, and any other medical or psychological necessity. Maternity leave is also covered under this act. According to federal law, maternity leave includes taking a leave of absence to care for and bond with a recently adopted child or to care for a newborn.

The Family and Medical Leave Act allows each individual to have up to twelve weeks of leave each year to be taken consecutively. This leave is always unpaid and must be taken in a row and not spread throughout the year. Under this act, an individual also has job security. He or she cannot legally be terminated from employment due to pregnancy or another medical issue.

While an employee is on leave, an employer has the right to hire a temporary employee for the twelve weeks but then must terminate him or her when the weeks have concluded. An employee on leave is however not exempt from termination if the company or business is downsizing for financial purposes and he or she would have been terminated if he or she were not on leave.


The federal law of 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act, states that employees are not to be paid less than the state minimum wage, which is required to be at or above the federal minimum wage. In 2009 the federal minimum wage was raised to seven dollars and twenty-five cents, requiring each state to raise its minimum.

Tennessee raised its minimum wage to meet the federal requirement. It is unlawful for an individual to be paid less than the minimum, except in particular circumstances. Employees who are regularly tipped can lawfully be paid two dollars and thirteen cents an hour as their tips make up the wage difference. The tips are not to be shared with a salary-paid manager. Changing an employee’s hourly wages to this low amount is only legal when that employee makes thirty or more dollars in tips a month. When tips are acquired in mass, the employees working are to split the tips at the end of each shift.

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