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Tennessee Expands Employee Protections Relating to COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates

Update Applicable to:
All employers that require COVID-19 vaccinations in the state of Tennessee.

What happened?
On March 11, 2022, Governor Lee signed Senate Bill 1823 (SB 1823) into law, which expands protections for employees who are subject to employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

What are the details?
Effective March 11, 2022, the new Tennessee law provides that:

n employer that requires a person to provide proof of vaccination or requires an individual to receive the COVID-19 vaccine must grant the person an exemption to the policy if:

  1. the person provides a valid reason for a medical exemption supported by a statement that has been signed and dated by a licensed healthcare provider; or
  2. the person states that the person has a religious belief that prevents the person from complying with the policy.

For an exemption based on religious belief, the law prohibits the employer from requiring an individual to provide further proof beyond their initial statement to be granted an exemption. Notably, unlike federal law, there is nothing in this new law that enables employers to deny such exemption requests because the exemption would cause undue hardship for the employer or otherwise create a direct threat to the employee or others in the workplace.

Employers also are required to provide a response to requests for an exemption within two business days and must not deny a request without a written explanation explaining why the request was denied. The law further prohibits employers from discharging, threatening to discharge, or reducing the compensation of a person who requests and is granted an exemption.

For more information, please see the links below:

Senate Bill 1823 (SB 1823)

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What do employers need to do?
Employers should review the links provided above and review their COVID-19 vaccination policies to be in compliance with the new law

November 2021: New Tennessee Law Restricts Workplace Vaccine Requirements

Update Applicable to:
All employers in Tennessee.

What happened?
On November 12, 2021, Governor Lee signed Senate Bill 9014 (SB 9014) into law creating Title 14 of the Tennessee Code, prohibiting vaccination requirements, and allowing former employees to collect unemployment benefits.

What are the details?
Effective November 18, 2021, private employers who employ one or more employees within Tennessee, governmental entities, and schools are prohibited from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination or taking adverse action against an employee or applicant for refusing to provide proof of vaccination if the employee or applicant objects to vaccination for any reason.

Additionally, the new law– creating Title 14 of the Tennessee Code–provides that employees may collect unemployment benefits if they are separated from employment as a result of refusing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. 

An employer may be sued if they violate Title 14. Title 14 creates a private right of action, allowing employees and members of the public to sue for injunctive relief, compensatory damages, and attorney’s fees if they believe they have been injured.

For more information, please see the links below:

House Bill 9077 (HB 9077)

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What do employers need to do?
Employers should review the links provided above and make adjustments to their COVID-19 vaccination policies.

August 2020 Tennessee HR Legal Updates

Tennessee Passes COVID-19 Liability Shield for Employers

What happened?
Governor Lee signed the Tennessee COVID-19 Recovery Act into law on August 17, 2020.

What are the details?
The Tennessee COVID-19 Recovery Act will help shield employers from litigation regarding COVID-19 exposure. The Act will protect businesses, healthcare providers, schools, non-profits, and other entities and individuals. The Act will not protect in cases where the complainant can prove by clear and convincing evidence that the business, healthcare provider, school, non-profit, entity, or individual proximately caused the loss, damage, injury, or death by an act constituting gross negligence or willful misconduct. Claimants will need to provide additional documentation:

  • A verified complaint pleading specific facts outlining the defendant’s purported gross negligence or willful misconduct
    • A certificate of good faith stating the claimant or claimant’s counsel has consulted with a physician licensed in Tennessee or a bordering state, and the physician has provided a signed written statement that the physician is competent to express an opinion on exposure or contraction of COVID-19 and that physician believes the alleged damage was caused by an alleged act of the defendant

If the claimant does not provide the above documents, the action may be dismissed with prejudice. The full Act can be found here.

What do employers need to do?
Employers should continue following guidelines provided by the state to ensure they are not negligent in exposing employees unnecessarily to COVID-19.

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Tennessee Provides New Guidance on COVID-19 Isolation and Quarantine

What happened?
The Tennessee Department of Health has released new guidelines for businesses to refer to when dealing with employee isolations.

What are the details?
The new guidelines advise on a 10-day isolation period for employees, at minimum. A confirmed COVID- 19 case must isolate for at least 10 days. A severe or returning case may have to isolate for no fewer than 20 days. It’s all about the fever. If within the 10-day isolation period, a case is without a fever for 24 hours, they must still isolate for the full 10 days. If they are fever-free for 24 hours during the 10 days but then develop a fever while still within the 10-day period, they must experience another 24 hours fever-free before ending isolation. As a result, a second fever could require the isolation to extend beyond 10 days.

The guidelines can be found here.

What do employers need to do?
Employers should familiarize themselves with the guidelines in order to advise employees and create their own policies regarding COVID-19 isolation.

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