The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act helps ensure advance notice in cases of plant closings and mass layoffs. It was passed in 1988 to provide workers with sufficient time to prepare for the transition between the jobs they currently hold and new jobs. This might include retraining opportunities before they lose their current jobs or the providing of information about where new jobs may be found.
It is important for employers to understand their obligations under WARN, especially in relation to decisions being made in 2020.
WARN Notification Requirements
The WARN Act requires employers to provide written notice at least 60 calendar days in advance of covered plant closings and mass layoffs. Covered plant closings include employment loss at a single site during any 30-day period of more than 50 employees. Mass layoffs do not result from a plant closing but also result in employment loss at a single site for at least 50-499 employees if they represent at least 33% of the total active workforce, or 500 or more employees.
A WARN notice is required when a business with 100 or more full-time employees is laying off at least 50 people at a single site of employment; or if a business employs 100 or more workers who work at least a combined 4,000 hours per week, and is a private for-profit business, a private non-profit organization, or quasi-public entity separately organized from regular government.
Circumstances That Can Trigger WARN
WARN can be triggered under multiple situations. If an employer closes a facility or discontinues an operating unit permanently or temporary, when this act affects at least 50 employees, WARN is triggered.
If an employer lays off 500 or more employers at a single site of employment during a 30-day period, or lays off 50-499 workers and these layoffs constitute 33% of the employer’s total active workforce at the single site of employment, WARN is triggered.
If an employer announces a temporary layoff of less than 6 months that meets either of these criteria and then extends the layoff for more than 6 months, WARN is triggered. If the extension occurs for reasons that were not reasonably foreseeable at the time the layoff was originally announced, notice need only be given when the need for the extension becomes known. Any other case is treated as if notice was required for the original layoff.
If an employer reduces the hours of work for 50 or more workers by 50% or more for each month in any 6-month period, WARN is triggered.
It is important to notice that a plant closing or mass layoff need not be permanent in order to trigger WARN.
Penalties for Violating WARN
An employer who violates WARN is liable to each affected employee for an amount equal to back pay and benefits for the period of violation, up to 60 days. An employer who fails to provide notice as required to a unit of local government is subject to a civil penalty not to exceed $500 for each day of violation.
WARN is enforced through the U.S. District Courts. Workers, their representatives, and units of local government may bring individual or class action suits against employers believed to be in violation of the Act.
It is important for employers to keep up with their responsibilities and requirements as outlined in the WARN Act during the Coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. Department of Labor has more information regarding employers’ responsibilities toward their workers and employees’ rights.