On October 1, Tennessee will join a growing list of states providing additional protections to pregnant employees as the Tennessee Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (Act) takes effect. Covered employers include those with 15 or more employees. Under the Act, it is unlawful for an employer to refuse to make reasonable accommodations for medical needs arising from pregnancy, childbirth or other related medical conditions unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer. This includes requiring employees to take leave under a leave law or employer policy if another reasonable accommodation can be provided. The Act also prevents an employer from taking any other adverse actions against an employee in the terms, conditions, or privileges of an employee’s employment if the individual requests or uses a reasonable accommodation due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, such as counting pregnancy-related absences under a no fault attendance policy.

If required of other employees with medical conditions, employers may request that an employee with a medical need relating to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions provide medical certification from a healthcare professional if the employee is requesting a reasonable accommodation related to temporary transfer to a vacant position, job restructuring, light duty, or an accommodation that requires time away from work. During the time period in which an employee is making good faith efforts to obtain medical certification, an employer must not take any adverse actions against the employee related to the employee’s need for an accommodation and the employer must begin engaging in a good faith interactive process with the employee to determine if a reasonable accommodation can be provided absent undue hardship.

Under the Act, an employer is not required to do the following unless the employer does so or would do so for another employee or class of employees needing an accommodation:

  • 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 for the employee, including a light duty position, unless the 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 compensated.
  • Construct a permanent, dedicated space for expressing milk.

Any employee who believes that his or her employer has violated this Act may bring an action in chancery court or circuit court in accordance with the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act within one year of the date of termination or other adverse employment action. Potential damages under the Act include back pay, compensatory damages, prejudgment interest, reasonable attorneys’ fees, and any other appropriate legal or equitable relief.

Employers should review their policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the Act and provide training to supervisors and human resources professionals regarding the requirements of the Act. If you have any questions regarding implementation of this new Act, please contact one of our labor and employment attorneys.