Federal and California Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Acts
From Navigating COVID-19
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Many businesses are struggling with the decision to lay off, furlough or terminate employees. California temporarily has loosened strict notice requirements for businesses subject to the state's Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (Cal-WARN).
The Cal-WARN Act is broader and includes more employers than the federal WARN Act –– the state's employers generally are bound by the broader requirements. The federal WARN Act, however, offers an “unforeseeable business circumstances” exception to the notice requirements. The exception grants states more flexibility in handling layoffs and downsizing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The California Warn Act
The Cal-WARN Act requires employers who have employed 75 or more people within the preceding 12-month period to provide 60 days’ notice to employees before conducting a mass layoff (50 or more employees in a 30-day period), relocation or termination (plant closure or other cessation of operations). It also might apply to employee furloughs lasting fewer than six months.
On March 17, Gov. Newsom signed Executive Order N-31-20 temporarily suspending notice requirements under Cal-WARN in connection with mass layoffs, relocations or termination related to COVID-19. Prior to the suspension, the only possible exception to the notice requirement was if a mass layoff was caused by “physical calamity or act of war.” What qualifies as a “physical calamity” is unknown, so the governor’s executive order provides the clarity many employers have been seeking during this uncertain time.
The order extends an “unforeseeable business circumstances” exception to the notice obligation previously available only under federal law. It may be asserted when the mass layoff or shutdown, according to the Code of Federal Regulations, is caused by “sudden, dramatic, and unexpected action or condition outside the employer’s control.”
To qualify for the unforeseen circumstances exception, employers must comply with other provisions under Cal-WARN:
- The employer’s mass layoff, relocation or termination must be caused by coronavirus-related “business circumstances that were not reasonably foreseeable at the time the notice would have been required."
- The employer still must provide written notice, per the Cal-WARN Act, to:
- employees affected by the mass layoff, relocation or termination;
- all representatives of employees affected (such as labor unions);
- the EDD, Local Workforce Development Board and chief elected official of each city and county government within which the termination, relocation or mass layoff occurs.
- Explain in writing to the impacted employees and state and local government why full notice cannot be given.
- Notify employees of their eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits.
The Federal Warn Act
Employers that abide by the California law no doubt will have complied with federal standards as well.
Employers typically subject to the federal WARN Act (that is, those with 100 or more full-time employees, subject to certain caveats) must provide 60 days’ notice of an “employment loss” if there is a “plant closing” or a “mass layoff” affecting 50 or more employees over a 90-day period. "Mass layoffs” must affect at least 50 full-time employees and at least 33% of the active full-time employees at a “single site of employment,” unless the layoff affects 500 or more employees, in which case the one-third requirement does not apply.
Under the federal WARN Act, an “employment loss” is: (1) an employment termination, other than a discharge for cause, voluntary departure or retirement; (2) a layoff exceeding six consecutive months; or (3) a reduction in hours of more than 50% during each month of any six-month period.
The last thing any employer knows during the COVID-19 crisis is what the world will look like in 60 days. So the notice exception for “unforeseeable business circumstances” requires employers to provide only “as much notice as is practicable.” Under the applicable federal regulations, “The employer must, at the time notice actually is given, provide a brief statement of the reason for reducing the notice period, in addition to the other elements ...." Notably, during the coronavirus pandemic, the federal WARN Act expressly recognizes that “an unanticipated and dramatic major economic downturn might be considered a business circumstance that is not reasonably foreseeable." For further information, consult these sources:
- The California Labor & Workforce Development Agency (LWDA): https://www.labor.ca.gov/coronavirus2019/
- U.S. Department of Labor Guidance on Federal WARN Act compliance: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/eta/layoffs/WARN
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