Labor and Employment

Notice of Layoffs Under the WARN Act

Updated By Sachi Barreiro, Attorney, University of San Francisco School of Law
Larger employers must give advance notice of layoffs when a large number of employees will lose their jobs.

At some point in time, most people will experience a layoff. Companies lay off workers for many reasons; for example, the company might be experiencing a decreased demand for its goods or services, the company might be moving its operations overseas to save money, or the company might simply need to shut down the business altogether.

Regardless of the reason, a layoff is often a stressful and frightening time for employees, especially when the economy is down and jobs are scarce. But having advance notice of a layoff can soften the blow and give workers time to find new jobs or learn new skills. The Worker Adjustment & Retraining Notification (WARN) Act provides this assistance by requiring larger employers to provide notice when laying off a large number of employees. (To learn more about layoffs in general, see our article on employee protections from layoffs.)

Who Is Covered by the WARN ACT?

The WARN Act applies to:

  • employers with 100 or more full-time employees (those who work 20 hours or more per week and have worked for the employer for six months or more), and
  • employers with 100 or more full-time employees who work at least 4,000 hours per week combined.

Employees who work for a covered employer are entitled to notice under the WARN Act if they will lose their jobs for at least six months or if they will have their regular work hours cut by more than 50% for at least six months. This includes part-time employees, even though they are not counted in determining whether an employer is covered under the Act.

What Events Trigger the WARN Act’s Requirements?

A covered employer must follow the notice and other requirements of the WARN Act when it closes a plant or conducts a mass layoff:

  • Plant closing. This is when an employer shuts down a single site of employment, or a facility or operating unit within a site, which causes 50 or more full-time employees to lose their jobs during a 30-day period.
  • Mass layoff. This is when an employer lays off 500 or more full-time employees in a 30-day period, or when the employer lays off 50 to 499 full-time employees in a 30-day period and those employees make up at least 33% of the employer’s workforce.

What Does the WARN Act Require?

The WARN Act requires covered employers to give workers at least 60 days’ advance notice of a plant closing or a mass layoff. The notice must be in writing and contain details about the closing or layoff, including when it will happen, whether it is permanent or temporary, and whom to contact within the company for more information.

In addition to giving notice to workers, covered employers must provide notice to the local government where the mass layoff or plant closing will take place and to the state’s dislocated worker unit. The dislocated worker unit—also called the state rapid response coordinator—is a government agency that provides reemployment services to employees who are part of a mass layoff. Services may include:

  • information about the current job market, such as which industries are currently hiring
  • job search and placement services
  • help with writing a resume and preparing for interviews, and
  • assistance in finding and paying for retraining or education courses.

Penalties

Employers that fail to give proper notice under the WARN Act are subject to stiff penalties. If you were entitled to notice under WARN, but didn’t receive it, you can recover your regular wages and benefits for each day of the violation, up to a maximum of 60 days. Also, if you have to hire an attorney to file a lawsuit because of your employer's failure to comply with WARN, your employer might be required to pay your court costs and attorneys’ fees.

State WARN Laws

Many states have laws similar to the WARN Act, which 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. To find out more about WARN and any protections your state provides, see State Laws on Plant Closings.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • After being laid off and getting a WARN notice from my old employer, I heard that it has decided to open a new plant. Does my former employer have to offer me a job at the new plant?
  • Is it legal for my employer to give me 60 days of wages and benefits instead of the required 60 days’ notice under WARN?
  • Am I entitled to a WARN notice if I’m out on maternity leave when my company announced a plant closing?
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