Tennessee Employers – Beware of Employment Eligibility Requirements


By: Josh Lott
On January 1, 2013, the third phase of the Tennessee Lawful Employment Act (“TLEA”) went into effect, giving Tennessee employers with 6 to 199 employees the option of either enrolling in the federal E-Verify program or obtaining and maintaining an approved work eligibility document on all newly hired employees and independent contractors.   Below is the list of approved work eligibility documents.

  1. A valid (unexpired) Tennessee driver’s license or photo identification;
  2. A valid (unexpired) driver’s license or photo identification from another state;
  3. A valid (unexpired) U.S. passport;
  4. A birth certificate issued by a U.S. state,  jurisdiction or territory;
  5. A certified birth certificate issued by the U.S.  government;
  6. A U.S. certificate of birth abroad;
  7. A U.S. certificate of citizenship;
  8. A U.S. certificate of naturalization;
  9. A U.S. citizen identification card;
  10. A U.S. lawful permanent resident card; or
  11. A valid alien registration documentation or other proof of current immigration registration recognized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Under the TLEA, the Commissions of Department of Labor and Workforce Development is authorized to conduct inspections on employers to verify compliance with the Act’s requirements.  If the Commissioner determines that an employer has violated the Act, employers face significant penalties: $500 for a first offense; $1,000 for a second offense; and $2,500 for a third and any subsequent offenses.  On top of these penalties, the TLEA imposes additional penalties of $500 per worker not properly verified for a first violation; $1,000 per worker not properly verified for a second violation; and $2,500 per worker not properly verified for any additional violations.  Employers who violate the TLEA may even face suspension of their business license.

Many states have enacted laws similar to the TLEA in an attempt to combat illegal immigration within their borders. As the law in this area is in flux and full of traps for the unwary, employers should review their employment verification practices to ensure compliance with both federal and state law.