The New Tennessee Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
By Paula Jackson
January 19, 2021
The Tennessee Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which went into effect on January 1, 2021, provides certain protections for pregnant workers and job applicants of employers with fifteen or more employees. For instance, employers must engage in a good-faith interactive process with those who request a reasonable accommodation to determine if one can be made for medical needs related to pregnancy and childbirth and provide that accommodation unless it poses an undue hardship to significant expense or difficulty. Some examples of potential accommodations include light duty (if available), lifting assistance, modified seating or work stations, more frequent or more prolonged breaks, and/or a private location for expressing milk besides a bathroom. Under this law, the employer cannot require the employee to take leave if another reasonable accommodation can be made instead. Additionally, employers cannot take adverse action against employees who request reasonable accommodations, including that they cannot count pregnancy-related absences under a no-fault attendance policy.
However, this law also provides some protections for employers. For example, it indicates that the employer is not required to create a new position (e.g., light duty) or hire a new employee as part of the reasonable accommodation process unless the employer has done the same for another employee (e.g., an employee with a worker’s compensation injury). Nor does the employer have to compensate the employee requesting a reasonable accommodation for taking more frequent or more prolonged breaks than other employees (outside of paid break periods) unless it has done the same for other employees. Furthermore, the employer may request medical certification if the accommodation requested is for light duty or job restructuring, temporary transfer to another position, or time off work, so long as the employer requires the same of other employees with medical conditions.
 Tenn. Code. Ann. §§ 50-10-101, -102, -103, -104. The full text of this new law can be viewed at https://advance.lexis.com/container?config=014CJAA5ZGVhZjA3NS02MmMzLTRlZWQtOGJjNC00YzQ1MmZlNzc2YWYKAFBvZENhdGFsb2e9zYpNUjTRaIWVfyrur9ud&crid=f25c976a-732e-4a71-aa8b-e0f19838bcdc&prid=387323fb-7094-47bf-a48a-82e704b2a688. In addition to the new Tennessee Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, employers should also continue to comply with other pregnancy-related laws, including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (42 U.S.C.A § 2000e(k)), federal lactation and retaliation laws (Sections 7 and 15(a)(3) of the Fair Labor Standards Act), and Tennessee lactation laws (Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-1-305). More information about those laws may be found at https://www.eeoc.gov/pregnancy-discrimination, https://www.dol.gov/agencies/oasam/civil-rights-center/internal/policies/pregnancy-discrimination, https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/WHD/legacy/files/whdfs73.pdf, and https://www.tn.gov/health/health-program-areas/fhw/bf/breastfeeding-businesses.html. Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 50-10-102, -103. Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-10-103. Employers cannot take adverse employment action while the employee is trying in good faith to get medical certification. Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-10-103(c).