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If your business finds that it must lay off a large number of employees, make sure you are in compliance with a federal law that requires some employers to provide advance notification. This little-known law is called the Federal Worker Adjustment Retraining and Notification Act (WARN).
Under the law, employers who are covered must give 60 days notice of a plant closing or mass layoff. This notice must be given both to employees and to state and local governments. Failing to do so can result in civil penalties and employees can sue for as much as 60 days pay and benefits, plus attorneys' fees. Employers should take note that this type of lawsuit is becoming more common. Even employers who seek to follow the letter of the law in providing notices, pay, and benefits may find themselves in court.
Take a look at what happened after a South Carolina golf ball manufacturer closed its plant.
Facts of the case: Employees of Dunlop Sports Group Americas Inc. showed up for work on the last day of October to discover the plant had already ceased operations. They were told that they should no longer report for work, but they would receive full pay and benefits for the next 60 days. In accordance with the WARN Act, they were given written notices listing these details, and explaining that the plant had closed because it had been sold. Included in the written notice was the stipulation that payment and benefits would cease for employees who went to work for the successor company during the 60 day period.
Per the agreement, Dunlop fulfilled its obligations to all of its 350 employees except for 22 individuals who were hired by the successor during the 60 days. When they began working for the successor, Dunlop ceased paying them. Those 22 employees filed suit in federal court, claiming that Dunlop should have continued paying them through the end of the 60 day period. They also claimed that they suffered the job loss beginning on the date of the notice of the plant shutdown, which was Oct. 31. Therefore, the employees argued that Dunlop should have provided notice of the plant shutdown 60 days prior to Oct. 31.
The United States Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. The judge explained that, contrary to claim of the plaintiffs, the date of employment loss was not necessarily the same as the date of the plant shutdown. "The WARN Act's required notice must precede the date when employment loss resulting from the shutdown occurs, not the date when the shutdown itself occurs."
The continuation of pay and benefits for 60 days after the notice of shutdown indicated an employment relationship, not an employment loss, even though the employees were not required to report to work. The court went on to state that "In the WARN Act Congress sought to protect employees' expectations of wages and benefits, not their expectation of performing work." [Long v. Dunlop Sports Group Ams., Inc., No. 06-2143 (4th Circuit, Oct. 29, 2007)]
The WARN Act is aimed at giving employees time to find new jobs or get retraining. Consult with your human resources adviser or employment attorney if you think you are affected.
Here are some basic details:
[NOTE: Information and guidance in this article is intended to provide interesting and helpful information on the subjects covered. It is not intended to provide a legal service for readers' individual needs. For legal guidance in your specific situations, always consult with an attorney who is familiar with employment law and labor issues.]