COVID-19 Updates, Resources for TN Small Businesses

Date: March 01, 2021

New guidelines for restaurants, retail

The state’s Economic Recovery Group issued updated guidelines on May 20 for restaurants and retail, along with new guidelines that enable attractions and larger venues to reopen with social distancing and capacity restrictions on or after May 22. Click here for details.

TN eases restrictions on shops and restaurants

On Friday, May 15, the state’s Economic Recovery Group announced it will lift capacity restrictions on restaurants and retail to instead focus on social distancing best practices effective May 22. It also will issue guidelines to help larger, non-contract attractions reopen safely on or after May 22. New Tennessee Pledge guidelines will be released early next week.

The large attractions guidance applies to businesses that can “effectively practice social distancing,” such as racetracks, amusement parks, waterparks, theaters, and museums. Restrictions on social gatherings of more than 10 people remain in place for the time being. Details here.

Six counties – Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, and Sullivan – may continue to follow individual, county-specific reopening plans created in consultation with State and local health departments. 

State adds $266M to Unemployment Trust Fund

Governor Bill Lee’s administration has shifted more than $266 million of available federal monies to the state’s unemployment trust fund. Before the pandemic, the fund was at $1.2 billion; since mid-March, state payouts to claimants has neared $300 million. Commissioner of Finance & Administration Butch Eley told the Daily Memphian, “We’d like to be able to fill it up proportionally to be where we were.” This is good news for employers because it will keep the fund balance above tax triggers that would begin at $850 million. NFIB continues to advocate for further contributions, as needed, to keep additional pressure off struggling independent businesses during the pandemic.

Refusal to work could jeopardize unemployment benefits

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development says federal guidelines state that individuals must be willing and able to work to receive unemployment benefits. 

Not returning to work when there is available employment may be considered a “refusal of work” and could potentially disqualify claimants from receiving TUC benefits.

The federal CARES Act provides provisions for individuals who have traditionally been ineligible for state unemployment benefits, but those provisions do not apply to employees apprehensive about returning to work because of health concerns.

Under federal law, workers who have been placed on a temporary layoff related to COVID-19 who can work, and do not qualify for any other Unemployment Insurance provisions through the state or under the CARES Act, must return to work if called back. Learn more here.

Take Governor Lee’s COVID-19 small business survey

Governor Lee’s administration is encouraging small business owners to complete a brief online 15-question COVID-19 Response Survey. Complete the survey here.

‘Close-contact’ businesses to begin opening

Governor Lee has said that close-contact services such as salons and barbershops in 89 of Tennessee’s 95 counties will be able to reopen at limited capacity on May 6. The governor’s Economic Recovery Group, of which NFIB is an advisory member, on Thursday issued industry-specific guidance for those businesses. Read about it here.

NFIB TN director speaks at Nashville mayor’s daily briefing

NFIB State Director Jim Brown was asked to speak at Nashville Mayor John Cooper’s daily briefing on the city’s response to the coronavirus.

Brown talked about additional funding for federal Paycheck Protection Program loans and NFIB’s 10-point legislative agenda to help Tennessee’s small businesses survive the COVID-19 crisis.

Guidelines for gyms

Tennessee’s Economic Recovery Group has announced guidance for gyms and exercise facilities on how to reopen safely. Gyms will be allowed to reopen in 89 of the state’s 95 counties beginning Friday, May 1. The counties excluded are those with locally-run health departments: Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, and Sullivan. The rules include limiting members to 50% of fire-code capacity and maintaining social distancing. Learn more here.

State issues business interruption FAQ’s

The Department of Commerce & Insurance has issued FAQs for insurance policyholders inquiring about business interruption clauses in their contracts. Read their guidance here.

SBA releases list of PPPL lenders

The Small Business Administration on April 23 released a state-by-state list of lenders participating in the Paycheck Protection Program Loan program. Learn more here or download the list (PDF) here.

Department of General Services FAQ

The state Department of General Services’ Central Procurement Office is handling many requests for personal protective equipment or emergency supplies such as respirators, masks, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and disinfectant spray, and is handling grant requests to help local government agencies. Vendors or donors with equipment for sale or donation to the state should contact or Click here to learn more.

Most businesses in 89 counties allowed to re-open May 1

Governor Lee says the order for people to remain at home will expire on April 30 and that most businesses in 89 of Tennessee’s 95 counties will be allowed to reopen on May 1. “These businesses will open according to specific guidance that we will provide in accordance with state and national experts in both medicine and business,” Lee said. The governor’s office plans to work with six other counties — Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Shelby, and Sullivan — as they develop their own reopening strategies. Details here.

NFIB TN director speaks at Nashville mayor’s COVID-19 briefing

Nashville Mayor Jim Cooper asked NFIB State Director Jim Brown to speak at the mayor’s daily news COVID-19 news conference on Friday, April 17. Brown addressed the urgent need for Congress to approve additional funding for Paycheck Protection Program loans. He also cited the recent NFIB survey showing that about half of small business owners can continue only two months under current conditions. Click here to watch the full news conference, or click here to watch Brown’s presentation

Brown named to Economic Recovery Group

Brown has been named to Governor Lee’s Economic Recovery Group, a joint effort between state departments, legislators and business leaders to develop a strategy for safely rebooting Tennessee’s economy. Lee said, “As we work to safely open Tennessee’s economy, this group will provide guidance to industries across the state on the best ways to get Tennesseans back to work.” Read more about it here.

Stimulus Financial Accountability Group

Governor Lee on April 16 announced the Stimulus Financial Accountability Group to ensure proper fiscal management of stimulus funds received by the state through the Coronavirus Relief Fund created by the CARES Act. Tennessee projects a distribution of approximately $2.3 billion from the fund. Details here.

COVID workers’ comp presumption in TN?

At least nine states have or are considering changes to their workers’ compensation laws relating to the coronavirus. Most provide presumptions that a COVID-19 illness is compensable for health care workers and safety professionals (firefighters, first responders, police officers).  There is now pressure in some states to include other essential workers such as grocery store employees. In many of these states, changes have been made in response to political pressure. States have made the changes by rule or executive order. Illinois recently made the change with the issuance of an “emergency” rule. 

In Tennessee, any rule must be in keeping with existing law; there is no law that provides a presumption for a pandemic illness. Policymakers should keep in mind that presumptions given may be hard to retract once the emergency has passed. If a state’s workers’ compensation system is working as it should, a person with a valid job-related injury/illness will have a compensable claim and a presumption statute is not necessary. If an employer denies a claim that should be paid, that employer will face negative consequences. Tennessee has both a penalty and the possibility of having to pay the employee’s legal expenses if an employer wrongfully denies coverage. In the final analysis, however, this is and should only be a policy question for the legislature to determine.


The U.S. Department of Labor announced recently that confirmed cases of COVID-19 will not have to be included as recordable incidents for Occupational Safety and Health Administration recordkeeping purposes unless there is objective evidence available to them that the cases are work-related. OSHA noted that determining whether a worker contracted COVID-19 while performing work duties is difficult given ongoing community spread. The announcement helps to protect companies from unfounded liability claims while allowing businesses to focus on hygiene and safety procedures at their facilities. Read the OSHA enforcement memo here.

Safer at Home order extended

On Monday, April 13, Governor Lee extended his Safer at Home order until April 30. His original order was set to expire at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday. Lee said he made the decision to extend the order through the end of the month after consulting with the White House.

Economic Recovery Group announced

The governor also announced an Economic Recovery Group to develop a plan to “reboot” the state’s economy as early as next month. It will be led by Tourism Development Commissioner Mark Ezell. Lee said the “safety and health of Tennesseans is utmost,” but “we also can’t keep our economy shut down.”

Department of Labor FAQ for employers

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development has posted a FAQ for employers dealing with furloughs related to the coronavirus. Read it here.

Filing Extension for Professional Privilege Tax

The Tennessee Department of Revenue has extended the due date for filing and paying the professional privilege tax from June 1 to July 1, 2020. Details here.

FAQ’s on TN’s mandatory ‘safer at home’ order

On April 2, Governor Bill Lee issued a “shelter in place” order, several days after issuing a “safer at home” order. NFIB has partnered with the Beacon Center of Tennessee to produce FAQ’s to help understand what these orders mean for small businesses. Read it here.

ECD webinars for SBA loan questions

The Tennessee Economic & Community Development Departments is hosting the SBA for twice-daily webinars for SBA-loan related inquiries, Monday through Friday. To register, visit 

Governor issues 2-week ‘safer at home’ order, closes non-essential businesses

Gov. Bill Lee has issued a two-week statewide order closing non-essential businesses and telling Tennesseans to stay at home “as much as possible.” The order takes effect at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, March 31, and lasts through April 14. Click here to read Executive Order 22 and an attachment listing the kinds of businesses the state considers essential.

The governor also issued an executive order specifying the kinds of businesses that should remain closed to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus. The list includes hair salons, movie theaters, music venues, and bowling alleys. Click here to read Executive Order 21.

Business tax filing deadline extended

The state Department of Revenue has extended the due date for filing and paying the Business Tax from April 15 to June 15, 2020. Details here.

Metro asks Nashville businesses to post flyers

Metro Nashville/Davidson County has requested all business owners in Davidson County to prominently post these two flyers (download them here and here) where it is visible for customers and employees as they enter and move around the premises. If you have any questions, please contact Brian Todd, Public Information Officer with the Metro Public Health Department of Nashville/Davidson County at

Nashville remains under a “Safer at Home Order” issued by the Metro Public Health Department on March 15. All individuals living in Davidson County should stay in their homes, unless absolutely necessary, or if they work for essential businesses and government services.

Tax deadline extended

On March 24, Governor Bill Lee announced that the state has extended the due date for filing and paying franchise and excise tax from April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020.

This is welcome news for many independent businesses, especially after the IRS’s announcement last week that the due date for federal income taxes has been moved to July 15. NFIB advocated for the state extension to help many of our members with cash flow challenges as a result of the COVID-19 virus; we thank the governor and his administration for this flexibility during uncertain economic times.

At this time, the business tax due date remains the same (April 15), while the Hall income tax due date is still the 15th day of the fourth month following the end of your fiscal year. NFIB will update our members if this changes. As noted on the Tennessee Department of Revenue’s COVID-19 webpage, sales & use tax filings and payments remain due on the 20th day of each month.

For more information on these and other tax matters, follow the Department’s webpage on COVID-19 and tornado disaster relief.

Federal updates

As small businesses across the country are grappling with the current and potential impacts associated with COVID-19, NFIB is continuing to track the latest developments from healthcare officials, congress and the administration. We know small business owners are acting now to take necessary precautions, but also need to understand how actions taken by policymakers today affect business operations down the road.

Click here for the latest information.

Related Content: News | CoronaVirus State | Taxes | Tennessee

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