Sexual harassment at your workplace logically seems wrong, and most workers in Mississippi—like everywhere else—assume they are protected from it. But that is not always the case.
Picture yourself in a situation where you work for a small, family-owned business in Clarksdale. Everybody knows everybody else and you feel like a family member. The job is great…except when your boss begins to make suggestive comments and sexual allusions when you are alone. After the first time, you think you might have imagined it or somehow encouraged him. After the second and third time, you know you didn’t imagine it and have definitely not encouraged him. Who can you tell? Your boss is the owner’s brother.
If your employer does not have a human resources department or representative, it is up to you to figure out and understand your employment rights. The internet is full of resources, both information and people, who can inform you.
Federal But No State Employment Protections
Mississippi has no laws that protect employees from sexual harassment at work.
According to the Mississippi Bar Association, sexual harassment is illegal, but the state of Mississippi relies on federal protections for its workers.
When a private employer has at least 15 employees, Title VII of the Federal Human Rights Act of 1964 makes workplace discrimination illegal throughout the United States. Mississippi workers who have been sexually harassed at work are protected federally if their employer has 15 or more employees. This means the practice of making decisions about work duties, hiring, firing, promotions, layoffs, or compensation based on gender (sex) is illegal. Federal courts have concluded that sexual discrimination protection is covered by the larger category of discrimination protection.
In addition, for workplaces with 15 or more employees, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides another federal resource for sexual harassment complaints. You can file a complaint directly with them, but it must be done within 180 days of the harassment incident (starting the day it happened).
What to Do If You Have Been Sexually Harassed at Work
The first step you can take is to document the harassment incident(s). Write down every detail you can remember, including exactly what was said and the date(s) it happened. This information will be useful to you when reporting sexual harassment and to any outside help you receive.
In order to prove sexual harassment, the offensive behavior must be severe or frequent enough that your work is affected by it. The worse, or more offensive, the behavior is, the less frequently it has to occur before it is considered sexual harassment. Some courts have found that sexual harassment can be determined by just one severe offensive act (e.g., if it involves physical contact).
If you feel unsure of what to do next and need support, a sexual harassment lawyer can explain the lack of state law and describe federal employment protections.