November 28, 2022

Volume XII, Number 332

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November 28, 2022

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Tennessee Expands Employee Protections Relating to COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has signed into law a bill that expands protections for employees who are subject to employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

The new law supplements existing state law that prohibits private employers and other entities from compelling or otherwise taking “adverse action” against a person to compel the person to provide proof of vaccination if the person objects to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine “for any reason.”  The law defines “adverse action” to include denying employment or discharging, threatening or otherwise discriminating against an employee “in any manner that affects the employee’s employment, including compensation, terms, conditions, locations, rights, immunities, promotions, or privileges.”  The existing law gives applicants and employees a right to seek injunctive relief and to recover compensatory damages and reasonable attorneys’ fees for violations.

Effective March 11, 2022, the new Tennessee law provides that “[a]n employer that requires a person to provide proof of vaccination or requires an individual 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 which 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 in order 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 an 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 (2) 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.

Violations of the new law are punishable by a civil penalty of $10,000.

© 2022 Proskauer Rose LLP. National Law Review, Volume XII, Number 75
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About this Author

Evandro Gigante Labor and Employment Lawyer Proskauer Rose Law FIrm
Partner

Evandro Gigante is a partner in the Labor & Employment Law Department and co-head of the Employment Litigation & Arbitration group and the Hiring & Terminations group. He represents clients through a variety of labor and employment matters, including allegations of sexual harassment, race, gender, national origin, disability and religious discrimination. Evandro also counsels employers through reductions-in-force, employee relations issues and other sensitive employment matters.

With a focus on discrimination and harassment claims,...

212.969.3132
Laura M. Fant, Labor & Employment Attorney, Proskauer Law Firm
Associate

Laura M. Fant is an Associate in the Labor & Employment Department, resident in the New York office. She is a member of the Accessibility and Accommodations Practice Group, and frequently counsels on matters involving the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state public accommodation law, as well as disability accommodation in the workplace. She has experience conducting accessibility audits and providing ADA and accessibility training for clients in a variety of sectors, including retail, sports, and not-for-profit. Her practice also focuses on wage and hour...

212-969-3631
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