Occupational Licensing in Tennessee

What is Occupational Licensing?

An occupational or professional license is a permit issued by the government that lets someone work in a particular field. In Tennessee, more than one out of five workers must now get an occupational license before they can legally do their jobs. But many licenses don’t even improve service quality or protect the public from actual harm.  

Licenses Create Barriers to Working in Tennessee

Occupational licenses often impose high barriers to entry. That makes it much harder for people to find work or to start a new business. According to the Institute for Justice’s report, License to Work, the average license for low- and moderate-income jobs in Tennessee takes 245 days of education and experience. In fact, Tennessee has the 13th worst licensing laws in the country. And those required classes can be very expensive.  

For instance, cosmetology is one of the state’s most popular licenses. In Tennessee, it takes at least 1,501 hours of classes to get a license in cosmetology. On average, a cosmetology program in the state costs $15,742, while the average student takes out $7,569 in federal student loans. But despite such a hefty investment, many cosmetologists barely earn enough to get by: Half of cosmetologists make less than $24,430 a year. 

All told, the state’s licensing requirements come with heavy costs. A separate study by IJ, At What Cost?, estimated that occupational licensing costs the state’s economy $4.5 and leads to 46,000 fewer jobs each year. 

Licensing Lawsuits by the Institute for Justice in Tennessee 

Rev. Nathaniel Craigmiles wanted to sell simple caskets to his parishioners at a fraction of what funeral establishments charge. But the state’s funeral board banned him from selling, because he wasn’t a licensed funeral director—a license that requires years of learning skills the reverend had no intention of using, like embalming. Represented by the Institute for Justice, the reverend fought back and won a landmark court ruling. Decided in 2002, Craigmiles v. Giles marked the first federal appellate court victory for economic liberty since the New Deal.  

Recent Licensing Reforms in Tennessee 

Tennessee has eased licensing barriers for ex-offenders and banned cities and counties from creating new municipal licenses. The state also created a new review process to examine regulations by state agencies, boards, and commissions that could impose a “potentially unreasonable restraint of trade.” 

Can You Get a License to Work with a Criminal Record in Tennessee? 

Licensing boards in Tennessee can only disqualify applicants if they have been convicted of crimes that “directly relate” to the license. Boards must also consider evidence of rehabilitation and offer applicants a predetermination petition process. This lets applicants find out if their criminal record would disqualify them, before they begin any required training. However, the state’s protections do not apply to licenses involving education, mental health, and multiple white-collar professions. Overall, Tennessee received a C+ for its laws in IJ’s Barred from Working report.  

How You Can Help

If you are an Tennessee resident and you want to help fight against these unfair and unnecessary licensing laws, there are a few ways you can get involved. You can donate to the Institute for Justice, sign up for our email updates, and share our message with your network. Together, we can make sure that all Tennessee workers have the economic liberty they deserve.

Are Occupational Licenses Preventing You From Working in Tennessee?

Are you not able to exercise your job or open a business because of burdensome occupational licensing requirements in your state?

Are you forced to waste valuable time and money to become licensed?

We might be able to help.

If you want IJ to review your case, please share your situation through the following form.

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Occupational Licensing Research

Occupational Licensing

License to Work 3

This third edition of IJ’s landmark License to Work report finds that for lower-income Americans, licensing continues to be widespread, burdensome and—frequently—irrational. It also provides a blueprint for meaningful licensing reform.

Cosmetology | Economic Liberty

Beauty School Debt and Drop-Outs

Cosmetology is one of the most widely and onerously regulated occupations for lower-income workers, yet little research has explored the experiences of aspiring beauty workers. This first-of-its-kind study takes advantage of federal educational…

Barred From Working

Economic Liberty | Occupational Licensing

Barred From Working

Earning an honest living is one of the best ways to prevent re-offending. But strict occupational licensing requirements make it harder for ex-offenders to find work, thwarting their chances of successful reentry.

Economic Liberty | Occupational Licensing

At What Cost

Not only do state occupational licensing laws force people to spend a lot of time and money earning a license instead of earning a living, they also impose real economic costs. This study takes advantage…

Learn more about our Economic Liberty work.

Economic liberty—the right to earn a living in the occupation of your choice without unnecessary government interference—is at the heart of the American Dream. Unfortunately, all too many entrepreneurs find that this dream is under constant attack by unreasonable licensing, permitting and other requirements that stand in the way of honest competition.

Learn More

Reforming Occupational Licensing Nationwide

All Americans deserve the opportunity to earn an honest living. Yet occupational licenses, which are essentially permission slips from the government, routinely stand in the way of honest enterprise. Since our founding, IJ has fought to roll back oppressive occupational-licensing rules in more than two dozen distinct occupations, ranging all the way from tax preparers to florists to traditional African hair braiders. Learn more about IJ’s occupational-licensing work in all 50 states:

Alabama | Alaska | Arizona | Arkansas | California | Colorado | Connecticut | Delaware | Florida | Georgia | Hawaii | Idaho | Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Kansas | Kentucky |Louisiana | Maine | Maryland | Massachusetts | Michigan | Minnesota | Mississippi | Missouri | Montana | Nebraska | Nevada | New Hampshire | New Jersey | New Mexico | New York | North Carolina | North Dakota | Ohio | Oklahoma | Oregon | Pennsylvania | Rhode Island | South Carolina | South Dakota | Tennessee | Texas | Utah | Vermont | Virginia | Washington | Washington, D.C. | West Virginia | Wisconsin | Wyoming