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7 Misconceptions About At-Will Employment in Tennessee

As you probably are aware, Tennessee is considered an at-will employment state. In general, this means that your employer can fire you at any time for any reason, or for no reason at all. Naturally, there are some exceptions to this rule. As we talk to clients, we have found some common misconceptions about at-will employment in Tennessee.

  1. I can be fired for anything, right? WRONG. The general rule in Tennessee is that you can be fired for good cause, bad cause, or no cause at all. In other words, you are an employee at-will. But there are countless exceptions. For example, you cannot be fired or discriminated against in employment based upon your gender, race, religion, age over 40, national origin or disability. Such examples violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Tennessee Human Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. For more information, see our blog post on Wrongful Discharge.
  2. If I file for workers’ comp benefits, I could lose my job, right? WRONG. Under Tennessee law, you cannot be retaliated against solely for asserting your right to benefits under the workers’ compensation statutes. This, however, does not mean that the employer is required to hold your job open for an indefinite period. Further, the employer is not required to return you to your job if you can no longer perform the duties that it requires.
  3. I’ve been asked to do something I know is wrong. If I refuse, I’ll lose my job, right? WRONG. The Tennessee Public Protection Act (Tennessee’s “whistleblower statute”) states that “[n]o employee shall be discharged or terminated solely for refusing to participate in, or for refusing to remain silent about, illegal activities.” In addition to this Act, Employees may also be protected from retaliation under the False Claims Act and False Medicaid Clams Act. These laws, along with similar Federal laws, allow informants to bring cases against companies they believe are defrauding the government. For example, in one recent case, a medical facility was found to be fraudulently billing TennCare for services rendered. The employee who reported the practice was protected under the law. In such cases, the informant is also entitled to a portion (typically 15-25%) of any recovered damages. In one such case, the whistleblower received a settlement of $525,000.
  4. I was fired me while I was recovering from a surgery, but I guess they can do that, right? WRONG. Depending on the number of employees that your employer has and your length of employment, you may be protected by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). For more details, see our recent blog post regarding your rights under the FMLA.
  5. Tennessee is a right-to-work state; therefore you can be fired for anything, right? WRONG. Tennessee is a right-to-work state. However, this is different from employment at-will. Right-to-work means that you cannot be forced to join a union in Tennessee.
  6. Since I can be fired for anything, I shouldn’t call an attorney. They will just charge me a lot of money to tell me that I don’t have a case, right? WRONG. An attorney should not charge any fees until you have come to an agreement on fees. In some wrongful termination cases, the attorneys’ fees are contingent on the attorney recovering damages for you. In cases involving employment discrimination, sexual harassment or violations of the Family Medical Leave Act, a court may rule that your attorneys’ fees should be paid by the employer. If you are handling the legal issues of your case on your own, you may make irreparable mistakes.
  7. I have an employment contract, but that does not matter because this is an at-will state, right? WRONG. While it is rare in Tennessee for employees to have an employment contract, that contract is an exception to employment at-will. You should keep copies of everything that is in writing from your employer. In some cases, an employee handbook can create a contract. However, under Tennessee law, the employer’s policies can be changed at any time.
Call Today for a Free Consultation

If you believe that you’ve been fired unjustly, don’t wait as certain Statutes of Limitation may apply to your case. Contact The Lawyers of Brown & Roberto today. We are serious lawyers who know how to win. We’ll be happy to hear your case, answer your questions and advise you on a course of action. Call us at (865) 691-2777 or use the convenient contact form below.

(1) Bright v. MMS Knoxville, Inc., 2007 Tenn. App. LEXIS 510, 8-9 (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 7, 2007); Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-1-304; Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 4-18-101 et. seq.; Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 71-5-181 et. seq.

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