In its latest session, the Tennessee Legislature passed four bills that affect Tennessee public and private employers’ workplace policies and procedures.

Public Employees’ Attorneys’ Fees

Beginning June 1, 2016, an amendment to the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA) allows public employees who win their cases when sued in their individual official capacities to recover reasonable attorneys’ fees. A plaintiff initiating a lawsuit under the GTLA often will name an official of the public entity involved in addition to the public entity. If the public employee successfully defends against the claim, a court may require the plaintiff to pay the individual public employee’s reasonable attorneys’ fees. This may deter some plaintiffs from naming individual public officials as defendants.

Workers’ Compensation

Effective July 1, 2016, an amendment decreases the period in which an employee must give notice of an accident to his or her employer from 30 days after the accident to 15 days after the accident. An employee who fails to provide timely notice is barred from receiving compensation.

Present law authorizes the workers’ compensation administrator to set education program requirements for drug-free workplaces by rules. The amendment prohibits the administrator from requiring, in the rules, an employer to provide annual education or awareness training for each employee if all existing employees have undergone the training at least once and have acknowledged annually in writing the existence of the employer’s drug-free workplace policy.

Garnishments

Effective September 1, 2016, provisions governing the garnishment of earnings are changed from garnishment of “salaries, wages or other compensation” to garnishment of “earnings” — increasing the amounts of income that may be reached for garnishment.

E-Verify

Effective January 1, 2017, an amendment to the Tennessee Lawful Employment Law Act (E-Verify Act) requires private employers with at least 50 employees to enroll in the E-Verify program and use the system to verify employment eligibility for newly hired workers. In addition, the amendment authorizes the Tennessee Department of Labor (TDOL) to pursue employers that knowingly violate the E-Verify Act.

Employers that knowingly fail to enroll in the E-Verify program will be subject to a $500 penalty. If the failure continues after receiving notice from the TDOL, an employer will be subject to an additional $500 penalty per day. The TDOL may conduct an investigation to determine compliance.

The current law will continue to apply to employers with at least six (but fewer than 50) employees. These employers may use E-Verify or request and maintain certain identification documents of newly hired workers.