New legislation effective Jan. 1 covers broad range of subjects

TN Pregnant Workers Fairness Act ensures right of expectant mother to workplace accommodations

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 With the start of a new year always comes the start of new laws designed to improve the lives of residents throughout the state.

This year’s new legislative enactments scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021 include items that will affect areas of emergency services, employment benefits, and the tobacco industry.

A new law that ensures 911 operators are trained for CPR, Tennessee General Assembly this year to ensure 911 operators across the state are prepared to provide CPR instructions to a caller in an emergency situation. The legislation also includes liability protection for those providing this service.

“All of our 911 operators across the state are trained to administer CPR instructions over the phone, but not all counties allow these life-saving instructions to be given over the phone, likely for liability reasons,” Senator Paul Bailey (R) explained. “However, this new law provides liability protections for 911 operators and allows operators across the state to offer CPR instructions.”

“Many people are capable of giving CPR but need direction on specific steps,” he continued. “This law allows regular guidance to administer CPR in a time of crisis, such as the correct ration of chest compressions to breaths or how to give CPR to a child compared to an adult. This new policy could save many lives across the state because of how important it is to act quickly in cardiac arrest situations. “

Another new law is aimed to ensure pregnant workers have reasonable accommodations in the workplace. The legislature approved the Tennessee Pregnant Workers Fairness Act during the 2020 legislative session, and, while a portion of the law went into effect in October, it is set to go into effect in its entirety on Jan. 1.

“Maternal health is very important to the delivery of a healthy baby, and it is appropriate for the state to provide protections for expecting mothers and their babies,” Bailey commented on the new law. “While many employers already provide reasonable accommodations to their pregnant employees, the Tennessee Pregnant Workers Fairness Act ensures the right of an expecting mother to workplace accommodations such as stools, increased bathroom breaks, etc.”

The new legislation guarantees that if a pregnant woman talks with her doctor and needs a temporary reasonable accommodation to remain healthy and working, she will receive that accommodation, unless it would be a hardship on the business. 

Expert testimony heard in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee earlier in 2020 gave examples of accommodations including, but not limited to, a stool to sit on, extra restroom breaks, temporary limits on lifting, or even the availability of water. Testimony shared indicated that increased access to water, reduced exposure to chemicals, decreased standing requirements, and other reasonable accommodations will lessen a mother’s risk of going into an early labor. The new legislations also states that persons who feel they have been violated under provisions of the new act can seek recourse via civil action in the appropriate court or through the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act.

Another piece of legislation that was approved before the close of the 2020 session of the Tennessee General Assembly sets up a regulatory process for the emerging peer-to-peer car sharing industry.

“Car sharing is becoming increasingly popular across the state and country,” Bailey said about a new trend in the car rental industry that is similar what Airbnb is for the accommodations industry. “It is important we update our insurance laws to account for these new platforms such as Turo, where people rent their personal cars out to others. This new law helps protect drivers and car owners who use peer-to-peer car sharing.”

Lawmakers said the measure aims to encourage the advancement of such new technologies, while putting guardrails around it to ensure consumers are protected and tax equity is applied. The legislation sets minimum insurance requirements and specifies which party’s policy is responsible for the coverage during the duration of the ride sharing period.  It also requires peer-to-peer car sharing companies to have an agreement with an airport before executing transactions there just like those required of other vendors.  In addition, it clarifies car sharing companies operating above the $100,000 threshold are subject to the state’s new marketplace facilitator law and are collecting and remitting sales taxes on their rentals.

Another new law was approved to raise the age from 18 to 21 to purchase, possess, transport, smoke, or consume any tobacco, hemp, or vapor products.  

“That restriction (proof of age 21 to purchase tobacco products) was implemented by the federal government in 2019,” Bailey said, clarifying that Tennessee had simply been operating under that restriction. “This new law aligns our state and federal laws and ensures we continue to receive federal block grant funds.”

This new law puts state statutes in harmony with federal law and ensures that Tennessee will continue to receive $32 million in federal block grant funds.

One final piece of legislation that will go into effect on Jan. 1 reduces the minimum number of creditable service years required for correctional officer or emergency medical services personnel to retire from 30 to 25. The new legislation allows an employee who chooses to retire at 25 years to do so with some reduced benefits.

For a complete list of laws going into effect on Jan. 1, visit the tn.gov website.           

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