Wages, Fringe Benefits, Paychecks & Breaks

The Wage Regulations Act protects wage earners from unfair practices regarding pay. This section discussed the following: breaks and meal periods, fringe benefits, sex discrimination, final paychecks, payday regulations and deductions.

State law requires that employees must be provided a thirty (30) minute unpaid meal or rest period if scheduled six (6) consecutive hours, except in workplace environments that by their nature of business provides for ample opportunity to rest or take an appropriate break. An example would be a person employed in the food/beverage industry or security guards.

The failure to provide a thirty (30) minute meal or rest period is a violation of state law. There are no state requirements for additional breaks. Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-2-103 (h)

Fringe benefits are those benefits that are determined by the employer. These include paid-time-off (PTO), vacation or sick pay, holiday pay, severance pay and health insurance.

Is an employer required by law to provide fringe benefits?

No. There is no Tennessee law that regulates fringe benefits. Company policy is the determining factor. These and similar matters are also determined by an agreement between the employees and the employer or their authorized representatives. Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-2-103 (3)

If an employer's policy provides fringe benefits and the employee voluntarily or involuntarily separates, is the employer required to compensate for any of these benefits accrued, but not used?

No. Unless the employer's policy or its labor agreement specifically requires compensation of unused fringe benefits to an employee upon his or her separation of employment. Tennessee law does not require that an employee's final wages include such compensation. Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-2-103(a)(3)

I work in the same job classification as a person of the opposite sex, but I am paid less. Is this legal?
Generally, employers are required not to discriminate between employees on the basis of sex by paying one employee more or less than the employer pays to any employee of the opposite sex for comparable skill, effort and responsibility in which they are performed under similar working conditions. However, nothing prohibits wage differential based on a seniority system, a merit system, a system which measures earnings by quality production or any other reasonable differential which is based on a factor other than sex. Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-2-202(a)

Will my wages be reduced?
An employer who is paying a wage differential in violation of the act shall not reduce the wages of the complainant. In order to meet statutory compliance, the complainant's wages will be increased to be in compliance. Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-2-202(b)

Can an employer terminate an employee for a claim regarding sex discrimination?
No, an employer is not allowed to terminate or discriminate against any employee who files a claim for sex discrimination. Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-2-202(c)

Any employee who leaves or is discharged from employment shall be paid in full all wages or salary earned by the employee no later than the next regular pay day following the date of dismissal or voluntary leaving, or twenty-one (21) days following the date of discharge or voluntary leaving, whichever occurs last. There is no exemption under the law. Tenn. Code. Ann. § 50-2-103 (g)

Can my employer hold my paycheck until I return my uniform, etc.?
Only if an employee has signed a written policy or agreement.

If an employee separates, does the employer have to pay all wages on the separation date?
No, the employer is required to pay all wages or compensation due on the regular payday following the date of separation or 21 days thereafter, whichever occurs last.

All wages or compensation of employees in private employment shall be due and payable not less frequently than once per month: 

  1. For each employer that makes wage payments once monthly to employees in private employment, all wages or compensation earned and unpaid prior to the first day of any month shall be due and payable not later than the fifth day of the succeeding month.
  2. For each employer that makes wage payments in two (2) or more periods per month, all wages and compensation of employees in private employment shall be due and payable as follows: 

(A) All wages or compensation earned and unpaid prior to the first day of any month shall be due and payable not later than the twentieth day of the month following the one in which the wages were earned; and 
(B) All wages or compensation earned and unpaid prior to the sixteenth day of any month shall be due and payable not later than the fifth day of the succeeding month.

The employee signs a written agreement prior to any actions occurring pursuant to subdivision (a)(1) allowing the employer to offset the employee's wages for any amount the employee owes the employer, and the employer has in its possession at the time of the offset a copy of such signed agreement. Tenn. Code. Ann. § 50-2-110 (a) (2)

Can my employer withhold the cost of my uniform, equipment, company loans, shortages, etc. from my paycheck?
Generally,  your employer cannot make any deductions from your paycheck without your consent to the deductions unless you have signed a written agreement.

My employer has just told me he is going to reduce my pay. Can he do this without my knowledge?
An employee's pay can be reduced as long as the employer notifies the employee BEFORE any work is done. Private employers with 5 or more employees are required to establish and maintain regular pay days. Employees are required to be paid at least once per month. Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-2-103(a)(1).


Labor Standards Unit