A resolution allowing voters to embed the state’s Right to Work (RTW) law into Tennessee’s Constitution was approved during the 111th General Assembly. The measure protects the right of Tennesseans to join or refuse to join a labor union or employee organization, saying it should always be a “fundamental civil right.”

Currently, there is legislation at the federal level seeking to undermine all state RTW laws, among other anti-business provisions. This includes the PRO Act bill which was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives that would eliminate RTW laws enacted in 27 states. Nine states have already acted to adopt RTW constitutional amendments.

In addition, there are moves to repeal RTW laws at the state level. There is an effort in Virginia to abolish their law which has been on the books since 1947, the same year Tennessee enacted its law giving workers a choice.

The resolution must pass the General Assembly by a simple majority this year and by a two-thirds majority during the 2021 or 2022 legislative session in order to appear on the ballot for a statewide referendum in November 2022. The amendment will become part of the state constitution if adopted by a majority of votes cast in the governor’s election.

Construction Service Providers

The 111th General Assembly approved legislation in 2020 to level the playing field with in-state and out-of-state construction service providers.

Previously, an out-of-state contractor was not required to keep and maintain workers compensation insurance for employees who work on a temporary basis in Tennessee. However, this practice has been abused and given out-of-state employers an unfair advantage over those located in Tennessee.

The new law requires all construction service employers to provide workers compensation insurance to employees in the same manner as in-state employers.

Tennessee Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

To ensure pregnant workers have reasonable accommodations in the workplace, the legislature approved the Tennessee Pregnant Workers Fairness Act during the 2020 legislative session.  

The new law sets a presumption that any reasonable accommodations provided for employees with medical conditions be extended to employees who are pregnant. It also establishes clear guidelines for employers and employees on how to navigate pregnancy in the workplace.

The legislation guarantees that if a pregnant woman talks with her doctor and needs a temporary reasonable accommodation to remain healthy and working, she will receive that accommodation unless it would be a hardship on the business. Examples of accommodations include a stool to sit on, extra restroom breaks, temporary limits on lifting or even the availability of water. Increased access to water, reduced exposure to chemicals, decreased standing requirements and other reasonable accommodations will lessen a mother’s risk of going into an early labor, according to expert testimony heard in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee earlier this year.

Persons violated under provisions of the act can seek recourse by bringing a civil action in the appropriate court. Alternatively, the issue could also be resolved by the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act before going to court.

Workers Compensation Law

The legislature approved a bill this year to clarify issues at the suggestion of the Court of Workers Compensation Claims and the Workers Compensation Appeals Board.

The legislation puts a minimum 180-day period into place from “maximum medical improvement” to qualify for increased benefits if an injured worker is unable to return to work. It also reduces the minimum impairment rating from 10 percent to 9 percent for increased benefit eligibility in extraordinary cases, which provides up to 275 weeks of benefits.

The measure requires that a final hearing must be held by the Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims within 180 days of the date of a request for benefits from the Uninsured Employers Fund.

Employment Opportunities for People With Disabilities

Legislation that aims to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities was passed this year.  

The new law affects the Community Rehabilitation Agencies (CMRA) of Tennessee, a non-profit agency which advocates for increased opportunities for employment and advancement for Tennesseans with disabilities. The agencies work with disabled Tennesseans and private businesses to fulfill state and local government contracts by employing people with disabilities.  

The legislation brings CMRA in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) definition regarding disabilities and ensures that affected workers receive at least minimum wage and the same benefits as other employees. It also enhances and expands competitive and integrated employment opportunities for Tennesseans with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  

Finally, the legislation sets up a mechanism for local approval for local contracts and cleans up state statutes to be consistent with current practices of the program and its advisory committee.

The 28th District State Senate seat is held by Dr. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, and includes Giles and five other counties.

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