In Mississippi, most employment relationships are “at-will”. This means an employee can quit, and an employer may fire, “for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all.”
Historically, the courts have recognized two major exceptions to Mississippi’s at-will rule.
Federal anti-discrimination laws.
There are several federal laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace. Those include:
- Title VII, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (the ADEA).
- The Americans with Disabilities Act.
There are several others. So, when the at-will rule says that an employer can fire an employee for a “bad reason,” it does not allow an employer to violate federal law.
The McArn exceptions.
Drawing its name from the case of McArn v. Allied Bruce-Terminix Co., Inc., 626 So.2d 603 (Miss. 1993), the McArn exceptions state that the at-will rule does not apply to:
(1) an employee who was fired for refusing to participate in an illegal act, or
(2) an employee who is discharged for reporting illegal acts of his employer.
The Mississippi Supreme Court concluded that firing someone for either of those reasons was against public policy.
Note: A mere good-faith belief that employer activity is criminally illegal without showing the activity to be actually criminal in nature is insufficient to provide recourse to a discharged plaintiff under the McArn exception.
The “I’m an American” exception.
In 2008, the Mississippi Legislature passed the Employment Protection Act. The avowed purpose of the Act was to discourage illegal immigration.
Most of the provisions of the Act address the obligations of employers to avoid hiring persons who are undocumented immigrants.
One provision, however, states as follows:
It shall be a discriminatory practice for an employer to discharge an employee working in Mississippi who is a United States citizen or permanent resident alien while retaining an employee who the employing entity knows, or reasonably should have known, is an unauthorized alien hired after July 1, 2008, and who is working in Mississippi in a job category that requires equal skill, effort and responsibility, and which is performed under similar working conditions, as defined by 29 USC, Section 206(d) (1), as the job category held by the discharged employee.
The Act does not state what remedies a discharged employee would have for such a “discriminatory practice.” But, the statute certainly appears to create another exception to the at-will rule.
Update: Read here for an exception when an employee is fired for participating in jury duty: https://www.craigpanterlaw.com/2019/09/27/at-will-employment-jury-duty/
If you have been fired and want to determine if you have a claim, contact us at:
Panter Law Firm, PLLC, 7736 Old Canton Road, Suite B, Madison, MS 39110.