You may have heard multiple news agencies reporting on an upswing in lawsuits regarding WARN Act violations. In one of them, workers are filing a lawsuit against a furniture company after 2,700 workers suddenly lost their jobs shortly before Thanksgiving via an email. Many believed that business was thriving, so it took them by surprise.
Another company making news is Twitter. After many employees received email notices at the same time that access to their work accounts was removed, they filed a class action lawsuit against Twitter’s new owner. What if it’s you in a similar situation?
You’ve been laid off, and you weren’t expecting it. You certainly didn’t have any notice. As you panic about how you’ll keep up with bills on unemployment income, which isn’t always enough to cover your expenses, you should stop and consider your rights. If you were laid off, there are situations where you’re entitled to compensation.
Read Your Employment Contract
What does your employment contract say? If there is a layoff clause, make sure you understand the terms. There may be language requiring your employee to hire you back first if work picks back up. If you’ve been laid off, and a few months later you spot your employer’s job posting looking for new workers, you have every right to ask why you were not called back.
Your employment contract is the first documentation you should read as there may be information about severance pay and insurance benefits.
What Was the Justification For Your Layoff?
Every company runs into financial issues or lack of enough work from time to time. It happens, and budget cuts are usually the first step in slashing expenses. A company will start by reducing staff in order to save money on wages and benefits packages.
Some companies will lay off established employees and hire new ones immediately to get out of having to pay benefits for a few months. If a company lays off management in order to hire more production workers to catch up on orders that are behind, that’s acceptable.
If they lay off production workers and hire new production workers at a lower hourly wage and get out of paying benefits until the workers have been with the company long enough, it’s worth considering a wrongful termination complaint against your employer.
Had you recently filed a workplace harassment claim against your employer or told your employer you were pregnant or disabled? If so, the timing of your layoff could be considered suspicious. Start gathering any evidence you can and talk to an attorney specializing in workplace retaliation.
Understand the Federal and California WARN Laws
With any layoff, the employer must follow both Federal and California’s WARN laws. WARN stands for Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notice. It requires employees to provide a minimum of 60-day notice before a mass layoff or plant closing. This gives people time to apply for and find work before their jobs end. If the current market is challenging, it gives them time to get training for an opening.
A company must also file with their state’s employment agency. Simply telling workers about layoffs isn’t enough. The state employment agency needs time to prepare to help laid-off workers.
Federal WARN laws require employers with 100+ full-time employees who have been working for at least six of the past 12 months. California’s WARN laws reduce that to 75 full-time or part-time employees who have been employed for at least six of the past 12 months. The rules apply to private for-profit and private non-profit businesses.
If a company with at least 50 full-time workers closes a plant’s operating unit or facility, WARN rules apply. In a mass layoff where there are 50 to 499 full-time workers, making up 33% of the company’s workforce, or a mass layoff where 500 or more workers are laid off, a 60-day notice is also required.
Have you been offered a position in another location? If you have been offered a transfer, you’re not protected by WARN.
You are not protected by WARN if you are a business partner, contract or temporary worker, consultant, or government employee. If you are on strike or locked out due to a labor dispute, you are not protected by WARN.
Companies who are trying to get enough capital to stay open do not have to provide WARN notices if there is a belief that sending out a WARN notice can impact the ability to get a loan approved or gain extra capital. A company that couldn’t possibly stay open for another 60 days due to an unforeseen event, such as a fire or loss of the company’s largest client, is also exempt.
What Goes Into a WARN Notice?
You meet the requirements for a WARN notice. To be a legal WARN notice, it must be given to you in writing, not just an in-person meeting or phone call. It has to explain if the layoff is temporary (less than six months) or permanent. It has to state when your final day will be, as long as you get the notice 60 days in advance of your final day of work.
The WARN notice must contain contact information on who you can talk to about the layoffs. If there are going to be “bumping rights,” they need to be clearly explained. Bumping rights are a situation where certain people in the company will remain in their position for as long as possible due to their importance or seniority.
If you are part of a union, it’s the union’s responsibility to provide you with information about the layoff. Your employer has to tell the union representatives at least 60 days in advance.
What If You Aren’t Given 60-day Notice and Should Have Been?
Federal WARN laws require employees who violate the WARN laws to pay each employee the back pay and benefits they’ve lost for the period of up to 60 days or half the days the worker was employed with that company if the worker was there for less than 120 days.
California laws allow lawsuits to be filed against the employer in violation of the WARN law. A civil penalty of up to $500 per day is possible. Employees are eligible for back pay at their final hourly wage or a three-year average rate, whichever is greater. Plus, the employer is liable for any medical bills that otherwise would have been covered by employee benefits during the 60 days.
Consult With an Employment Law Expert
When you’re not sure you were laid off in a fair and just manner, ask an attorney with expertise in workplace rights. Shegerian Conniff’s attorneys are experts in workplace discrimination and employee rights. You deserve fair treatment at work, and you shouldn’t have to accept an unlawful layoff. Talk to us to learn more about your rights during a layoff and whether you’re entitled to compensation.