Maternity and Parental Leave Rights in Tennessee

Tennessee employees can take time off for pregnancy and parenting under the FMLA and the state's leave law.

By , J.D.
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Do you need time off work for pregnancy, childbirth, or parenting? If you work in Tennessee, the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Tennessee's pregnancy and childbirth leave law give you the right to take unpaid leave for these reasons. The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) also prohibits your employer from discriminating against you because of your pregnancy, which may give you the right to take time off work, in some cases.

Job Protections for Time Off During Pregnancy

There are two types of laws that might protect you if you need pregnancy leave: laws that require pregnancy leave and laws prohibiting pregnancy discrimination.

Pregnancy Leave

Tennessee's Maternity Leave Act requires some employers to provide unpaid time off to employees for pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing an infant. In Tennessee, employers who have at least 100 full-time employees where the employee who needs leave works must comply with the law. Employees are eligible for the leave if they have worked full-time (as defined by the employer) for at least 12 consecutive months.

You may take up to four months of leave for these reasons under this state law. At the end of your leave, you must be reinstated unless:

  • you used your time off to search for another job
  • you used your time off to work for another employer, or
  • your position is so unique that your employer cannot fill it temporarily in your absence.

If you are eligible for leave under both the FMLA (see below) and Tennessee's pregnancy leave law, your leave time will run simultaneously under both laws. In other words, you cannot take four months of leave under the state leave law, then 12 more weeks of leave under the FMLA. Your first 12 weeks of leave will count under both laws.

The FMLA gives employees the right to take up to 12 weeks off work in a 12-month period for pregnancy (among other things). If you qualify, you can use the FMLA to take time off when you are unable to work because of your pregnancy and childbirth. You can also take FMLA leave for prenatal care, including routine check-ups and doctor visits. (Learn more about the FMLA in our article on FMLA leave for pregnancy and disability.)

Pregnancy Discrimination

The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act does not require employers to give pregnant employees time off work. However, if your company lets employees take time off for temporary disabilities like broken bones or heart attacks, then it must allow pregnant employees to take the same time off when they are unable to work.

Job Protections for Parenting Leave

The FMLA gives employees the right to take time off to bond with a new child, whether biological, adopted, or foster. This is part of your total 12-week leave entitlement. So, if you use two weeks of FMLA leave during your pregnancy, you will have ten weeks left to use for parenting leave.

Tennessee's leave law works the same way. Whatever portion of your four months of maternity leave remains after you give birth will be available for nursing your child. Notice that the Tennessee law doesn't mention parental leave, only leave for nursing (or adoption). For parents who have their own biological children, this would appear to exclude fathers from the leave equation. Fathers can take leave under the FMLA, however.

Part-Time or Reduced Schedule Leave

The FMLA allows employees to take their leave intermittently, if it's medically necessary. For example, if you have a prenatal check-up, you don't have to take a whole day off; you can use a couple of hours of your FMLA leave, then go back to work.

For parental leave, however, the rules are different. If you want to use your parenting leave a little at a time, your employer must agree to it. You aren't automatically entitled to use your parenting leave intermittently.

If your employer agrees to let you use your parenting leave intermittently, you must finish your time off within one year after the baby is born.

Married Parents

If you are married to someone who works for the same company, your employer can limit your total amount of FMLA leave for parenting to 12 weeks for both of you. (This rule does not apply under Tennessee's state leave law.) However, whatever portion of your own 12 weeks of FMLA leave you don't use for parenting will still be available to you for other reasons, including your own serious health condition.

Getting Paid During Your Time Off

FMLA leave is unpaid, as is pregnancy or parenting leave under Tennessee's leave law. However, you may ask—or your employer may require you—to use your accrued paid leave (like sick days, vacation, or PTO) to get paid during your time off. Unfortunately, Tennessee doesn't have a temporary disability program or paid family leave benefits.

Your employer, however, may offer maternity and paternity leave benefits, parental benefits, or short-term disability insurance that will pay for some or all of your time off. Talk to your HR representative or manager (and check your employee handbook) to find out what types of leave are available to you.

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