Have you recently lost your job? If so, you might be wondering whether you have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit. In Mississippi, as in other states, employees work at will. This means an employee can generally be fired at any time and for any reason, or for no reason at all.
But there are some exceptions to the at-will rule. For example, if your Mississippi employer fires you for discriminatory reasons, in violation of an employment contract, or in retaliation for exercising your rights, you may have a legal claim against your employer.
Every state's laws on wrongful termination are different. This article covers some of the common legal grounds you might have for suing your Mississippi employer for wrongful termination. But it's not a comprehensive list of Mississippi employment rights, which can change as courts issue new rulings and legislators pass or modify laws. To find out the full extent of your legal claims, speak to an experienced Mississippi employment lawyer. To learn more about Mississippi employment law, contact the Mississippi Department of Employment Security.
Under federal law, it is illegal for an employer to fire an employee based on a protected characteristic. Federal law prohibits employers from firing employees based on race, color, national origin, sex (including pregnancy), religion, age (if the employee is at least 40), disability, citizenship status, or genetic information. However, only employers with a minimum number of employees must comply with these laws. Most types of discrimination are prohibited once an employer has at least 15 employees. However, for age discrimination, the minimum is 20 employees, and for citizenship status discrimination the minimum is four employees. Although most states have their own general antidiscrimination laws, Mississippi does not. However, Mississippi does prohibit all employers from discriminating on the basis of military status.
These laws also make it illegal for an employer to retaliate against you for asserting your rights. For example, if you complain to your company's HR department that you believe you were passed over for promotion because of your age, your employer may not discipline or fire you for your complaint. Likewise, your employer cannot fire you for participating in an investigation of a discrimination complaint (no matter who made the complaint), testifying in court, or making other efforts to stop discriminatory practices.
Before filing a discrimination or retaliation lawsuit, you must file a complaint with the appropriate government agency. Because Mississippi does not have a state fair employment practices agency, you must file your complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC has local offices in Jackson, Mississippi. For contact information, visit the EEOC's Field Offices page.
If you have an employment contract promising you job security, you may not be an at-will employee. In Mississippi, an employment contract may be written, oral, or implied. In the first two types of contracts, your employer makes oral or written promises not to fire you for a certain period of time without good cause. In an implied contract, your employer acts in a way that creates a reasonable expectation that you would continue to be employed. For example, if your employee handbook states that employees will be fired only after certain procedures are followed, you may have an implied contract. If you have an employment contract, and your employer fires you without good cause, you have a legal claim for breach of contract.
Because Mississippi does not have a minimum wage law, employees are entitled to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Employees working in a city or county with a higher minimum wage are entitled to that rate. Under federal law, employees who work more than 40 hours a week are eligible for overtime.
Although some states require employers to provide meal or rest breaks, Mississippi is not one of them. However, under federal law, employers that choose to provide breaks of 20 minutes or less must pay for that time. Employers also must pay their employees for any time during which they must work, even if the employer characterizes that time as a "break."
It is illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who exercise their rights under federal wage laws.
State and federal laws give employees the right to take time off work for certain civic obligations and personal responsibilities. Employers may not discipline or fire workers for exercising these rights. In Mississippi, these rights include:
Mississippi prohibits employers from firing or otherwise retaliating against employees who report illegal activity or refuse to participate in illegal activity at the workplace.
If you think you were fired illegally, talk to a Mississippi employment lawyer. A lawyer can help you sort through the facts and assess the strength of your claims. A lawyer can also inform you of other state or local claims that you may have in addition to those listed above. Whether you want to try to get your job back, negotiate a severance package, or sue your employer in court, a lawyer can walk you through your options and help you decide on how best to proceed.