Senate Bill 632/House Bill 600 enacted the Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act known as Chapter 279 of the Public Acts of the 106th General Assembly.
Background to the law: Tennessee law currently prohibits discrimination by employers based on “race, creed, color, religion, sex, age, or national origin.” For years some local governments in some states have been adopting their own anti-discrimination laws for their employees, creating for themselves new classes of persons entitled to rights under the local government’s employment policies. Some of these local laws contain definitions and criteria as to who is expressly protected and what constitutes “discrimination” that do not conform to the state’s language in those regards. Nashville and Knoxville have done so in our state, adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as “protected classes” of employees. However, more and more local governments are trying to force these new, additional protected classes on private businesses and organizations. Nashville sought to do so in 2011.
Why the law was needed: Without Public Chapter 278, businesses desiring to contract with various local governments across the state would have been faced with trying to comply with a hodge-podge of different and sometimes inconsistent personnel policy requirements relating to discrimination. These local laws cans hinder business growth, impair job creation, impede intrastate commerce, and result in increased costs to taxpayers.
What the law did: This law provides that no local government can impose on any private business or person any personnel practice, standard, definition or provision relating to discrimination that deviates from the requirements of state law.
What the law does not do: First, it does not apply with respect to employees of a local government. Cities and counties are free to enact different criteria for their own employees. Second, it doesn’t prevent a business or organization from voluntarily adopting any internal employment policy that it wants with respect to specifically designated “protected classes” of employees. And third, it does not prevent state law from being amended in the future if our elected state representatives believe new or different personnel policies relating to discrimination should be required of all businesses.