FILE - Tennessee Sen. Jeff Yarbro

Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville

(The Center Square) – The Tennessee Senate has approved a bill that aims to reduce layoffs by allowing businesses to reduce employee hours in exchange for those employees gaining some unemployment benefit eligibility. 

The fiscal note on Senate Bill 958, which passed unanimously, says there are too many unknown factors to reasonably assess the financial effect on the state’s unemployment trust fund.

Sponsoring Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, said 26 states have a similar program.

“There were certainly, during the past couple of years when we had some sudden unemployment spikes ... there were companies out there and businesses that wanted to have this option to keep their people,” Yarbro said Monday before the Senate vote. “To retain talent and avoid the recruitment costs and also just to treat their employee better.”

The bill's fiscal note cited a similar law in Missouri that, per a 2018 report, helped 284 participating employers to avoid 15,268 layoffs while more than $3 million in shared work benefits were paid out from unemployment. Missouri’s program began in 2014.

Those benefits can include anything from cash to health insurance, retirement benefits, paid vacation and holidays, sick leave and other payable time.

House Bill 1274, the companion bill, is scheduled to be discussed in the House Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee on Wednesday.

Staff Reporter

Jon Styf is an award-winning editor and reporter who has worked in Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan in local newsrooms over the past 20 years, working for Shaw Media, Hearst and several other companies.