Maternity and Paternity Leave Rights in Tennessee

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

By , J.D., UC Berkeley School of Law

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 might give you the right to take time off work in some cases. And the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) strengthens your workplace protections.

Your Right to Maternity Leave in Tennessee

Two types of federal and state laws in Tennessee can protect your job if you need pregnancy leave:

  • laws that require employers to provide pregnancy leave, and
  • laws prohibiting pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.

Tennessee's Maternity Leave Law

The Maternity Leave part of the Tennessee Human Rights Act and Disability Act (Tenn. Code § 4-21-408) requires some employers to provide unpaid time off to employees for the following:

  • adoption
  • pregnancy
  • childbirth, and
  • nursing your infant.

Your employer must comply with the law if the employer has at least 100 full-time employees at your worksite. To be eligible for the leave, you must have worked for a covered employer full-time (as defined by your employer) for at least 12 consecutive months.

Under this state law, you can take up to four months of leave for the above reasons. At the end of your leave, your employer must reinstate you 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 can't fill it temporarily in your absence.

If Tennessee's maternity leave law doesn't cover your employer, or you don't meet the eligibility requirements, you might still be able to take time off for pregnancy under the FMLA.

Using the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in Tennessee

The FMLA applies to employers with at least 50 employees within 75 miles of your worksite.

If you're eligible for FMLA leave, you can take up to 12 weeks off work in a 12-month period when you can't 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 taking FMLA leave when you're pregnant.)

If you're eligible for leave under both the FMLA and Tennessee's pregnancy leave law, your first 12 weeks of leave will count under both laws. In other words, you can't take 4 months of leave under the state leave law and then take 12 more weeks of FMLA leave.

Taking Time Off Under Pregnancy Discrimination Laws

Tennessee's Pregnant Workers Fairness Act requires employers with at least 15 employees to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. Although the law doesn't specify that you have the right to take time off work when you're pregnant, it does include "allowing flexible scheduling for prenatal visits" on a list of examples of reasonable accommodations. (Tenn. Code § 50-10-102.)

Two federal laws also protect pregnant employees in the workplace and might give you the right to take time off work when you're having a baby. Both of these laws also cover employers with at least 15 employees:

  • the 2023 Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, and
  • the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Like the Tennessee law, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) doesn't require employers to give pregnant employees time off work. But if your company lets employees take time off for temporary disabilities like back injuries or cancer treatment, you must be allowed to take the same time off when you can't work due to pregnancy.

The federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) does protect your right to take time off work for pregnancy when it's medically necessary. The PWFA requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations when an employee needs them due to pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions. Under this law, reasonable accommodations can include time off work.

(Learn when you might also be entitled to workplace accommodations under the Americans With Disabilities Act.)

Your Right to Paternity or Parenting Leave in Tennessee

The FMLA gives eligible employees the right to take time off to bond with a new child, whether biological, adopted, or foster. And FMLA parental leave is available to all new parents, regardless of gender. You can take this maternity or paternity leave any time within 12 months of your new child's birth or placement in your home.

FMLA parenting leave is part of your 12-week leave entitlement. So, if you use two weeks of FMLA leave during your pregnancy, you'll have ten weeks left to use for parenting leave.

Tennessee's leave law (the Tennessee Human Rights Act and Disability Act) works the same way. Whatever portion of your four months of leave remains once your baby is born will be available for nursing (or bonding). Note that under Tennessee's law, you can choose to begin your leave before your child's birth, but for adoption, your four-month period begins when you receive custody of the child. Tennessee's leave law also allows fathers to take four months of protected paternity leave.

Part-Time or Reduced Schedule FMLA 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. The law allows you to use a couple of hours of your FMLA leave and then go back to work.

But for parental leave, the FMLA rules are different. If you want to use your FMLA parenting leave a little at a time, your employer must agree to it. You aren't automatically entitled to use your parental leave intermittently. If you use parenting leave intermittently, you must finish your time off within one year after the child is born (or placed in your home).

FMLA Restrictions for Some Married Parents

If you're married to someone who works for the same company, your employer can limit the combined amount of FMLA parental leave you and your spouse take to 12 weeks. (This rule doesn't apply under Tennessee's state leave law.) But 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 Maternity or Paternity Leave in Tennessee

FMLA leave is unpaid, as is pregnancy or parenting leave under Tennessee's maternity leave law. But you can ask—or your employer might require you—to use your accrued paid time off (like sick days, vacation, or PTO) to get paid during your maternity or paternity leave.

Thanks to a 2020 law change, full-time government employees who've worked for the state of Tennessee for at least 12 months (executive and judicial branches only) can take up to 6 weeks of paid parental leave. Unfortunately, Tennessee doesn't have a temporary disability program or paid family leave benefits for employees in the private sector.

But your employer might offer other compensation that will pay for some or all of your time off, like:

Talk to your HR representative or manager (and check your employee handbook) to find out what types of leave are available to you.

(Did you know that some private short-term disability policies cover pregnancy? Learn more about buying short-term disability insurance for pregnancy.)

Updated August 9, 2023

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