The New Law
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed the Tennessee Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (Senate Bill 2520) into law on June 22, 2020. This new law now requires every employer with at least 15 employees to make reasonable accommodations for their employees or prospective employee’s medical needs. These accommodations stem from pregnancy, childbirth, or other related medical conditions, except if accommodations would impose undue hardships to the business or operations. The fairness act goes into effect on October 1, 2020 with the Tennessee Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development being held accountable for enforcing the legislation.
What This Means
The legislature makes it clear that no covered employee can be required to take leave due to medical needs arising from pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Other reasonable accommodations would need to be possible for the employee. Further, an employer may not take any adverse action against the employee for requesting or using a reasonable accommodation under these circumstances. This includes counting an absence related to pregnancy under a no-fault attendance policy.
The employer, however, may require an employee with a pregnancy or childbirth-related medical condition to provide further certification from a healthcare professional. This will support any request for temporary transfer, job restructuring, light duty, or absence from work. It is the employer’s responsibility to engage in good faith regarding this possible accommodation. This begins immediately, even while the employee is in the process of obtaining the requested certification.
Protections and Provisions
The law does not provide protections greater than those afforded to other employees who might require reasonable arrangements. For example, if the employer would not otherwise hire or promote the employee due to lack of qualification, it is not required to hire or promote the employee because the employee is pregnant or affected by any other condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. If a light working position would not be provided to another, non-pregnant employee, then a new position does not have to be created for the pregnant employee. Additional breaks taken as part of an accommodation do not have to be paid if other employees are not entitled to similar paid breaks. Furthermore, no employer is required to construct a permanent space dedicated to the sole purpose of extricating breast milk.
Any person adversely affected by a violation of these protections and provisions may bring legal action with the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act. They can also go directly to chancery or circuit court. Possible relief for those affected by violations can include back pay, compensatory damages, prejudgment interest, reasonable attorney fees, and any other appropriate legal or equitable relief.
Employers should review their policies, practices, and communications with all employees. These policies should relate to hiring, discrimination, accommodation, and leave so that the appropriate notices are provided at hire and upon learning of an employee’s pregnancy. Employers should consider training Human Resource professionals and managers on their responsibilities under this new law.