At some point in time, almost everyone will lose a job. Companies and businesses layoff workers because of lower demand for their goods or services; some operations are moved overseas or "outsourced" to save money; sometimes a business just shuts down.
To many workers, it doesn't really matter why it happens. It's a stressful and often frightening time, especially when the economy is down and jobs are scarce. There may be some help available, though. The Worker Adjustment & Retraining Notification Act (WARN) helps some employees cope with losing a job by making sure they have prior notice of job cuts and helping them find new jobs.
Generally, WARN requires certain employers or businesses to give workers 60 days advance written notice of a plant closing or a "mass layoff." The law doesn't apply to all employers, but generally only to those with at least 100 employees. And, it doesn't apply to all employees, either.
WARN's notice requirement is intended to give you time to cope with the idea of losing your job, to look for another job, and to get new skills or retraining to help you compete in the job market.
Regular, full-time workers are covered by WARN, meaning they're the workers who are used to determine if the WARN notice provisions are triggered. There are several kinds of employees who are not covered, such as:
- Part-time employees. These are workers who are employed less than 20 hours per week or for less than six of the last 12 months
- Workers who are on strike or who've been "locked out" in a dispute between the employer and a labor union
- Temporary workers, that is, workers who were hired to do a specific task or project and knew that their employment wasn't permanent
Just because you're a part-time employee doesn't mean that you don't benefit from WARN. If there is in fact a covered layoff or closing, discussed below, then you too have to be given advance notice of it.
An employer has to let you know at least 60 days in advance of any:
- Plant closing. This is when an "employment site," or part of a site, is shut down and causes an "employment loss" for 50 or more employees during any 30-day period
- Mass layoff. This is a reduction in force (RIF) that causes an employment loss at a single site during any 30-day period of at least: (1) 500 employees, or; (2) 50 to 499 workers if they make up at least 33% of the employer's workforce
An employment site can be a building or department, or a group of buildings, like a campus. Employment loss means: (1) Your employment was terminated, but it doesn't include if you're fired "for cause," like for disciplinary reasons, voluntarily quitting or retiring; (2) You're laid-off for more than 6 months, or; (3) Your work hours are reduced more than 50% in each month of a six-month period.
Plant closings and layoffs are the most common events that trigger WARN. However, you may be entitled to WARN notice when the employer makes several waves of layoffs over a 90-day period or if a plant is relocated.
What's in the Notice and Its Purpose
WARN has detailed rules on what a WARN notice must contain and who has to get it. Hourly and salaried employees and managerial and supervisory staff must be given notice. Business partners, consultants, and contract workers don't, however. The notice itself is supposed to contain details about the closing or layoff, like when it will happen and whether it's permanent.
In addition to giving you time to look for a new job, the WARN notice kicks in the services of the dislocated worker unit in your state. This unit is responsible for getting you tools and resources to help you find another job, such as:
- Information about the current job market, such as which industries are and aren't hiring
- Job search and placement services
- Help with writing your resume and preparing for interviews
- Assistance in finding and paying for retraining or education courses
If you don't get the required WARN notice, you may be able to recover back pay and benefits for the period of violation, up to 60 days. Also, if you have to hire an attorney to file a lawsuit because of your employer's failure to follow WARN, your employer may have to pay your court costs and attorney's fees.
Many states have their own WARN statutes, and they can vary significantly from the federal WARN Act. For example, in some states, like New York, you may be entitled to 90 days advance notice of a mass layoff or plant closing. So, if you're being laid off or if your plant is closing, be sure to check the laws in your area, or talk to an experienced employment law attorney, to make sure you get all of the benefits you're entitled to.
Questions for Your Attorney
- I found a new but lower-paying job after getting a WARN notice from my old employer. It's now opening a new plant. Does it have to offer me a job at the plant?
- If I'm laid off for eight months like my WARN notice says and I'm only allowed to get unemployment compensation for 6 months, what am I supposed to for money for the other two months?
- I was on maternity leave when my company announced a plant closing. I didn't get a WARN notice. Wasn't I supposed to get one?
- I mailed all 150 WARN notices on the same day, and all but five workers received the notice within 60 days of a planned layoff. Can they sue me for not giving notice within the required time?