The 2014 Tennessee General Assembly passed two important employment laws giving employees limited additional (or clarified) rights and imposing important limitations on the remedies available to employees under the Tennessee Human Rights Act. Both appear very likely to be signed into law by Governor Haslam.
“Employee Online Privacy Act 2014”
The General Assembly passed a law protecting an employee’s private internet account from employer interference, unless the employee uses their own personal (non-business) account for the employer’s business purposes. Specifically, the Act provides that an employer shall not “request or require an employee or an applicant to disclose a password that allows access to the employee’s or applicant’s personal internet account.” Further, an employer is prohibited from firing an employee for failing to give the employer such information.
However, an employer is not prohibited from requiring an employee to disclose a username or password required only to gain access to an electronic communications device supplied by or paid for wholly or in part by the employer; or an account or service provided by the employer that is obtained by virtue of the employee’s employment relationship with the employer, or used for the employer’s business purposes.
Further, an employee may be disciplined or discharged for transferring the employer’s proprietary or confidential information or financial data to an employee’s personal Internet account without the employer’s authorization.
The law also allows an employer to conduct an investigation if there is specific information on the employee’s personal internet account regarding compliance with applicable laws, regulatory requirements, or prohibitions against work-related employee misconduct; or the employer has specific information about an unauthorized transfer of the employer’s proprietary information, confidential information, or financial data to an employee’s personal Internet account.
The law further allows the employer to restrict or prohibit an employee’s access to certain web sites while using an electronic communications device supplied by or paid for wholly or in part by the employer or while using an employer’s network or resources, in accordance with state and federal law;
An individual who is the subject of a violation of this part may bring a civil action against an employer to enjoin any acts in violation of this part and may recover not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000) in damages for each violation against the individual plus reasonable attorney fees and court costs.
The effective date of this law is January 1, 2015. SB1808.
Damage Limits placed on Human Rights Act claims
In another a law, the 2014 Tennessee General Assembly placed limits on the damages awardable for violations of the Tennessee Human Rights Act.
The caps change in amount depending on the size of the employer. Following the lead of the Civil Justice Reform Act of 2011, the new law places limits on the non-economic damages that may be awarded under Tennessee’s employment laws.
The amount of compensatory damages awarded for future pecuniary losses, emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and other non-pecuniary losses, shall not exceed, for each complaining party:
- $25,000 for employers with between 8 and 14 employees;
- $50,000 for employers with between 15 and 100 employees;
- $100,000 for employers with between 101 and 200 employees;
- $200,000 for employers with between 201 and 500 employees, and
- $300,000 for employers with over 500 employees.
This law does not affect recoveries for back pay, interest, front pay or any equitable relief and will be codified at Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-313.
This law also clarifies that an employer cannot retaliate or discriminate in any manner against a person because such person has opposed a illegal discriminatory practice or because such person has made a charge, filed a complaint, testified, assisted or participated in any manner in any investigation, proceeding or hearing under this chapter. Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-301.
The effective date of this law is July 14, 2014. SB 2126.
Both of these laws have passed the Tennessee General Assembly and are awaiting approval by the Governor, which is expected.