Skip to main content

3 Employment Laws Tennessee Physicians Should Know

Analysis  |  By Debra Shute  
   June 22, 2017

Physicians contemplating moving to Tennessee for employment, and accustomed to certain protections in other states, may be surprised to learn of these three laws.

Phillis Rambsy, JD, an employment attorney, spends a great deal of time reading and re-reading statutes dictating employers' and employees' rights in Tennessee.

Although some such laws are unique to the Volunteer State (for example, a person cannot be fired for tobacco use under Tenn Code Ann: 50-1-304) those who wish to get paid for their labors can find variations of many other rules throughout the country.

"You can find a few a few laws that only apply in a certain state, but most aren't related to employment law. It's the application of law that may differ more by state," she says.

But doctors are not guaranteed protection under the following circumstances, she notes:

1. Being Gay

Believe it or not, even though same-sex marriage is legal according to the U.S. Constitution, there is no law in Tennessee that protects gay or transgender employees. In other words, a female physician can marry another woman in the state, but could lose her job for sharing the news at work, says Rambsy, a partner with Spiggle Law Firm.

"It's really hard to reconcile that legally. The Supreme Court has been clear that same-sex marriage is legal, but it has not yet determined whether Title VII—the statute that prohibits discrimination based on sex, gender, religion, and national origin—includes sexual orientation," Rambsy says.

What's more, Tennessee does have a law on the books that prohibits any local government or city from expanding on protections further than the state, she adds, with a small exception pertaining to city employees in three major cities.

2. Being Bullied

There are laws to protect employees from discrimination based on protected classes such as race, sex, religion, national origin, and disability. And in at least 50% of bullying cases, the victim falls into one such protected class, Rambsy says, giving attorneys the ability to file a claim under Title VII or the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"But there is unfortunately in workplaces just garden-variety bullying," she says.

"Clients will call in for consultations, and we'll ask whether they think [the bullying is] because of their race, gender, or so on. And if the answer is, 'No, they're just mean,' we're in the discouraging position of explaining the employee does not have a claim."

3. Wanting a Vacation

"Tenn. Code Ann. 50-2-103(a)(3) … does not mandate employers to provide vacations, either paid or unpaid, nor does it require that employers establish written vacation pay policies." 

Even though physicians generally have the advantage of having vacation time spelled out in their contracts, Rambsy urges physicians to verify their right to time off not just in theory but also in practice.

"A physician contract may include vacation days but also usually has a productivity clause as well," she notes. "So if you're supposed to work a certain number of hours a month, quarter, or year, can you really take a vacation?"

Although it's best to address such issues upfront, physicians may be hesitant to bring up concerns during the interview process. People want to be seen as hard-working, for example, and afraid that asking about vacation policies will give a bad impression.

Rambsy's advice: "Tell them your mean attorney told you to ask."

Debra Shute is the Senior Physicians Editor for HealthLeaders Media.

Tagged Under:

Get the latest on healthcare leadership in your inbox.