In addition to the leave provided by your employer’s discretionary policies on vacation time, sick leave, personal days, or paid time off (PTO), you may have a legal right to take time off work for specific reasons under federal and Tennessee laws. For example, if you are caring for an ailing family member or recovering from childbirth, you may have a right to leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Tennessee law provides additional leave rights, including the right to time off for parenting, voting, and serving on a jury.
This article provides an overview of your right to time off from work in Tennessee. For more information, see our page on employee leave rights.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives eligible employees the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to care for a seriously ill family member (spouse, parent, or child), recuperate from their own serious health conditions, bond with a new child, or handle certain practical matters arising from a family member’s military service. The FMLA also requires employers to give employees up to 26 weeks off to care for a family member who suffered or exacerbated a serious illness or injury while serving in the military. (For purposes of this military family leave provision only, employees may take leave to care for a broader set of family members, including siblings, grandparents, and cousins, if they are next of kin to an injured service member.)
The FMLA applies to employers in all states with at least 50 employees. Employees are eligible only if they have worked for the employer for at least 12 months and have worked 1,250 hours in the 12 months before taking leave. (Learn much more about your rights under the FMLA at our Taking Family and Medical Leave page.)
Some states have created laws that provide employees with leave for family and medical reasons. Sometimes these laws overlap with the FMLA and don’t create additional rights. Often, however, state law applies to a wider set of employers, has more relaxed eligibility requirements for employees, or covers a broader set of family members. In Tennessee, employees of large employers have additional rights to pregnancy and parental leave.
Tennessee employers with at least 100 full-time employees at the jobsite or location where the employee works must allow employees to take up to four months of unpaid leave for pregnancy, childbirth, nursing an infant, and adoption. Employees are entitled to leave if they have worked full time for at least 12 consecutive months.
Another federal law, the Unformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) gives eligible employees the right to be reinstated to their jobs after taking up to five years off for service in the U.S. military. (Find out all about USERRA in Nolo’s article, Taking Military Leave.) Employers may not discriminate against employees based on their military service. And, employees may be fired only for good cause for a period of up to one year after they return from service, even if they would otherwise work at will. (See Employment At Will: What Does It Mean? to learn more.)
The laws of many states extend similar rights to employees who serve in the state’s military, including the right to take time off from work and to be reinstated afterwards. While Tennessee has not passed a law requiring reinstatement, employees do have some rights. In Tennessee, employers may not fire or refuse to hire someone because of his or her membership in the Tennessee National Guard, nor for taking time off work for required drills, including annual field training.
Tennessee law gives employees the right to take time off work, without fear of retaliation, for the civic responsibility of voting. Employees must be allowed to take a reasonable amount of time off, up to three hours, to vote. The employer may decide when in the employee’s shift this time is taken. This time off must be paid, and employees must give notice by noon on the day before voting day. However, employers need not give employees time off if the employee’s workday begins at least three hours after the polls open, or ends at least three hours before the polls close.
Employers must also allow employees to take time off to serve on a jury. Employers may not demote, suspend, or discriminate against an employee who needs time off to serve on a jury. Employees who work the night shift cannot be required to work the night shift during jury duty or the night before jury service is to begin. Employees must be paid their regular wages during jury duty (less any jury fees received from the court), unless they work for a company with fewer than five employees or are temporary employees who have worked for the employer for fewer than six months.