Are you an employee in Mississippi? If so, you should know about the federal and state employment laws that protect your workplace rights. Mississippi doesn’t have many laws that protect employee rights, but federal laws prohibit discrimination, give you the right to take time off work, and require employers to pay overtime, among other things.
Discrimination and Harassment Laws in Mississippi
Under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers may not make job decisions based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), or national origin. Additional federal laws prohibit discrimination based on age (if the employee is at least 40 years old), genetic information, or disability. Employers with at least 15 employees are subject to these laws (for age discrimination, employers with at least 20 employees must comply with the law).
Employers may not discriminate in any part of the employment relationship, from job listings, interviews, and hiring decisions, to promotions, benefits, compensation, discipline, layoffs, and termination. To learn more about the federal laws that ban employment discrimination, see the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Laws Enforced by the EEOC.
Harassment is a form of prohibited discrimination. Legally speaking, harassment is defined as unwelcome actions or statements, based on a protected trait (like sex or disability), that create a hostile or offensive working environment or that an employee must endure in order to get or keep a job. Sexual harassment is the most familiar type of harassment, but harassment might also be based on race, ethnicity, or another protected trait.
If you complain of workplace discrimination or harassment, you are protected from retaliation. It is illegal for your employer to take any negative job action against you, whether you complain within the company, to the EEOC, or in a lawsuit.
Mississippi Wage and Hour Laws
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets the wage and hour standards employers must follow, including the minimum wage, overtime, and other wage protections. Employers must pay the highest minimum wage applicable to employees, whether set by federal, state, or local law. Because Mississippi doesn’t have its own minimum wage law, employees in Mississippi are entitled to earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
If you earn tips, your employer may pay you a lower minimum wage, as long as you earn enough in tips to bring your hourly pay up to at least the full minimum wage of $7.25. Under federal law, Mississippi employers may pay tipped employees as little as $2.13 an hour.
Under the FLSA, Mississippi employers must pay employees overtime—time and a half—for all hours worked after the first 40 in a week. (Although most states have their own overtime law, Mississippi does not.) Some employees are not entitled to earn overtime, however. If you fall within an exception to the overtime laws (for example, because you are a salaried manager as defined by the law), you are an exempt employee, which means you are not eligible for overtime. You can find out more about the FLSA from the Wage and Hour Division of the federal Department of Labor.
Taking Time Off Work in Mississippi
Many employers offer their employees paid leave, such as vacation time, sick days, holidays, or paid time off (PTO) benefits. In Mississippi, these benefits are discretionary. Some states require employers to give employees paid sick days, but neither Mississippi nor federal law requires employers to offer paid leave.
However, employers may be required to offer unpaid leave for reasons such as:
- Family and medical leave. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers with at least 50 employees to give eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off per year for illness, caregiving, and bonding with a new child. While you are on FMLA leave, your employer must continue your group health benefits. You have the right to be reinstated when your leave is through. Some states have their own family and medical leave laws, but Mississippi isn’t one of them.
- Military leave. The federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) requires employers to allow employees to take leave from work for federal or state military service or duty. Employers in Mississippi must allow employees who are members or veterans of the military to take time off for training or military duty. Employees must be reinstated when their military leave is through.
- Military family leave. Under the FMLA, eligible employees may take up to 26 weeks off in a single year to care for a family member who was seriously injured on military duty.
- Jury duty. Mississippi employers must also allow employees to take time off work for jury service. This leave is unpaid. Employees may not be required to use their paid leave (like vacation time) during jury duty.
Mississippi Laws on Workplace Safety and Injuries
In every state, including Mississippi, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to provide a safe workplace, free of known hazards. Employers must provide safe, healthy working conditions, including the necessary training and safety equipment for their industry.
Employees have the right to request an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection if they believe their employer has committed safety violations. It is illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who complain of unsafe or hazardous working conditions.
Most Mississippi employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance, which covers employees who suffer an on-the-job injury or illness. Workers’ comp pays you a percentage of your usual earnings while you are unable to work, pays for necessary medical treatment, and provides vocational rehabilitation and other benefits.
Leaving Your Job in Mississippi
Mississippi employees generally work at will. This means they can be fired at any time, for any reason that is not illegal. However, even at-will employees may not be fired for reasons that are discriminatory or retaliatory. You may not be fired, for example, for raising concerns about discrimination, filing a claim for overtime, or making an OSHA complaint.
Unemployment and Insurance Benefits
If you are out of work through no fault of your own (that is, you were not fired for serious misconduct and you didn’t quit your job voluntarily), you may be eligible for unemployment benefits. To qualify, you must meet the state’s earning requirements. If you are eligible, you will receive a percentage of your previous earnings (up to a maximum of $235 per week) for 26 weeks while you are looking for a new job. Learn more about eligibility requirements, benefit amounts, job search requirements, and more (or file a claim for benefits online) at the website of the Mississippi Department of Economic Security.
If you have group health benefits through your employer, you may have the right to continue your coverage after you leave your job (whether you quit or are laid off or fired). You will have to pay the full premium (including any portion your employer used to pay as an employment benefit), plus up to 2% of that amount for administrative costs. You can continue your benefits for up to 18 months; your spouse and other dependents may continue their benefits for 18 to 36 months, depending on the circumstances.
Talk to a Lawyer
As you can see, a variety of state and federal laws protect employees in Mississippi. If you believe your employer has violated your legal rights, you should speak to an experienced Mississippi employment lawyer. A lawyer can help you figure out whether you have legal claims against your employer and, if so, how best to pursue them.