Get access to the exclusive HR Resources you need to succeed in 2018.
Sign up for free email newsletters and get more SHRM content delivered to your inbox.
Is your employee handbook keeping up with the changing world of work? With SHRM's Employee Handbook Builder get peace of mind that your handbook is up-to-date.
Build competencies, establish credibility and advance your career—while earning PDCs—at SHRM Seminars in 14 cities across the U.S. this fall.
Gain the skills you need to rise to the next level in your career. Jon us at SHRM's Leadership Development Forum, October 2-3 in Boston.
Members may download one copy of our sample forms and templates for your personal use within your organization. Please note that all such forms and policies should be reviewed by your legal counsel for compliance with applicable law, and should be modified to suit your organization’s culture, industry, and practices. Neither members nor non-members may reproduce such samples in any other way (e.g., to republish in a book or use for a commercial purpose) without SHRM’s permission. To request permission for specific items, click on the “reuse permissions” button on the page where you find the item.
Ruling on a question of law from a federal district court, the Tennessee Supreme Court has determined that a job applicant has no cause of action against a prospective employer in Tennessee if the prospective employer failed to hire the job applicant because the applicant had filed, or is likely to file, a workers’ compensation claim against a previous employer.
Kighwaunda Yardley began working as a housekeeping aide at the University Medical Center in Lebanon in 1998. In 2010, she was injured on the job and began receiving workers’ compensation benefits; she performed light-duty work at the hospital, planning to return to her housekeeping position when her doctor released her to full-duty work.
In 2012, while Yardley was still on light duty and not working in the housekeeping department, the University Medical Center contracted with Hospital Housekeeping Systems to perform the hospital’s cleaning services. Hospital Housekeeping agreed to interview the hospital’s housekeeping employees with the option of hiring any of the employees to continue in their positions. Yardley was not interviewed or hired by Hospital Housekeeping.
In August 2012, when Yardley was released for full-duty work, she applied for work with Hospital Housekeeping. However, she was not hired, in part because she had previously filed a workers’ compensation claim while employed by the hospital.
Yardley sued Hospital Housekeeping in federal district court, claiming the failure to hire her because of her previous workers’ compensation claim amounted to a retaliatory failure to hire, cognizable under the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Act, among other claims. She admitted that this cause of action had not been recognized in Tennessee.
The federal district court asked the Tennessee Supreme Court to consider whether there should be a cause of action for retaliatory failure to hire in Tennessee.
In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court declined to recognize a cause of action for retaliatory failure to hire under Tennessee’s workers’ compensation laws, public policy, or Tennessee common law. While some states allow this type of lawsuit, the court explained, Tennessee is an employment-at-will state and the legislature has not created this cause of action. It was unwilling to judicially craft an exception to the employment-at-will doctrine.
The court disagreed with the argument that an employer’s failure to hire a job applicant on the basis of workers’ compensation claim previously filed is like a retaliatory discharge. Retaliatory discharge is a recognized cause of action in Tennessee.
While an at-will employee may not be fired for “taking an action encouraged by public policy,” such as filing a workers’ compensation claim, it said, there is a fundamental difference between discharging an employee and refusing to hire a job applicant. The court pointed out that the basis of liability under the workers’ compensation laws is the employer-employee relationship, but Yardley’s relationship to Hospital Housekeeping was merely that of job applicant. Under Tennessee’s workers’ compensation laws, Yardley has no cause of action against Hospital Housekeeping.
Yardley v. Hospital Housekeeping Systems LLC, Tenn., No. M2014-01723-SC-R23-CV (Aug. 21, 2015).
James R. Mulroy is an attorney in the Memphis office of Jackson Lewis. Republished with permission. © 2015 Jackson Lewis. All rights reserved.
You have successfully saved this page as a bookmark.
Please confirm that you want to proceed with deleting bookmark.
You have successfully removed bookmark.
Please log in as a SHRM member before saving bookmarks.
Please sign in as a SHRM member before saving bookmarks.
Please purchase a SHRM membership before saving bookmarks.
An error has occurred
Recommended for you
SHRM Member Discounts Program
SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies