1. What legal protection does Mississippi provide employees in regard to whistleblowing and retaliation?
The general rule is that most employees may be fired at any time-for any reason or for no reason at all-under what is known as the at-will employment doctrine. However, in the past half-century, many exceptions to the general rule have emerged. Exceptions to this general rule can come from two sources: (1) courts, which modify and make "common law protections" or (2) the legislature, which enacts "statutory protections." Statutory protections tend to be specific, addressing certain subject areas (such as discrimination, workers' compensation, etc.). Yet, legislators often lack the foresight to address every possible situation of retaliation. Common law protections, on the other hand, tend to "fill the gaps" where no statute exists for a given situation.
Common Law Protections
Mississippi recognizes a narrow public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine. An employer may not discharge an employee for a reason that is contrary to the public policy of Mississippi. An employee has a cause of action-in other words, the employee may sue-for wrongful termination when the motivation for the discharge violates a public policy. The public policy exception has protected whistleblowers who report illegal conduct.
In addition, the Mississippi Legislature has adopted narrow statutory protections for certain activities. Employees who engage in protected activities (making a report or testifying) under Mississippi's Vulnerable Adults Act, and public employees are protected from retaliation.
In addition to the above state protections, federal law provides workers with additional protections. Furthermore, a private contract or collective bargaining agreement may also protect employees from certain forms of retaliation.
2. What activities does state law protect, and to whom does this protection apply?
Common Law Protections
An employee may not be discharged for a reason that is contrary to a public policy of the state of Mississippi. Specifically, the Supreme Court of Mississippi has recognized two forms of conduct that are protected. An employee may not be discharged in retaliation for:
- Refusing to participate in an illegal act
- Reporting illegal (criminal) acts of his employer to the employer or anyone else
Public Employees: Public employees may not be retaliated against for participating in a public investigation or for filing a complaint with a state investigative body. Miss. Code Ann. § 25-9-173.
Vulnerable Adults: An employee may not be discharged (or discriminated against) in retaliation for making a report, or testifying at a proceeding concerning the enforcement of the Mississippi Vulnerable Adults Act. Under that act, employees who believe that a patient/resident has been the victim of abuse, neglect, or exploitation are required to report the violation. Miss. Code Ann.§ 43-47-37(5)(b).
3. How do I file a whistleblower or retaliation claim in Mississippi?
An employee may file a lawsuit for wrongful termination in an appropriate court. The lawsuit must be filed within 3 years of the retaliatory action. If you believe you have a claim, you should contact a lawyer.