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Published April 9, 2021
Tennessee’s new Senate Bill 1348 would provide essential workers more protections and hazard pay in the event of a pandemic, but many residents have expressed worry over what else it could do. There are concerns that the bill could interfere with established small businesses by adding more restrictions.
SB 1348, “As introduced, requires certain employers to adopt and implement an essential workers’ bill of rights during a state of emergency or disaster, declared by the governor.”
The essential workers bill of rights states that, “The employer shall provide the employer’s essential workers with adequate personal protective equipment and products at no cost to the workers, including hand sanitizer, medical or surgical masks, medical or surgical gloves, disposable gowns, and any other equipment or product identified in emergency rules promulgated by the commissioner of labor and workforce development, in consultation with the commissioner of health.”
The bill of rights also says, “The employer shall pay the employee hazard pay for any day that the employee performs essential work for the employer outside of the employee’s residence.”
However, the hazard pay could not equal more than $25,000 in a year for a worker who earns $200,000 or more annual. Any essential workers who earn less than $200,000 each year would only receive up to $5,000 in hazard pay.
The bill of rights goes on to say that, “Hazard pay must be in addition to, and not part of, an essential worker’s basic annual salary, and shall not affect or impair performance advancement payments, performance awards, longevity payments, or rights or benefits to which an essential worker is entitled.”
Any executives, administrators, or professionals exempt from overtime would not be eligible to receive hazard pay. Once a state of emergency has been lifted, all businesses would terminate any hazard pay. During the emergency, Tennessee businesses would also be required to cover daycare costs for employees.
However, Tennesseans have expressed concerns that SB 1348 could negatively impact small businesses across the state. On top of covering daycare costs, the businesses would be responsible for any hazard pay given to essential workers. Adding additional staff members would be a cost pushed to customers by raising prices, and could be seen as a burden on the public.
In addition, workers across the state could refuse to work during a state of emergency, even if considered essential employees. The bill of rights would protect any individuals from being fired for refusing to work.
The bill states any refusal to work “is not grounds for the employer to discriminate, dismiss, discharge, reduce hours, or take an adverse action against the employee.”
A concerned reader of the Tennessee Conservative said, “this legislation would add more unnecessary bureaucratic requirements to small businesses that will end up either forcing these businesses to close or raise unwanted costs of operations onto the public.”
The senate bill, sponsored by Todd Gardenhire and Dwayne Thompson, was recently passed by the Commerce and Labor Committee. It now waits to be heard by the General Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.