Under the WARN Act, You Get 60 Days’ Notice—but There Are Exceptions

The WARN Act, or Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, requires employers with 100 or more employees to provide 60 days notice of large-scale layoffs and plant closings.

The purpose of this advance notice is to give employees time to plan for the layoff, find another job, or enter into a training program if they want to.

However, there are significant exceptions to this law—both to the employees within the company who qualify to be warned, and to the types of companies that have to provide a warning.

Exempted employees

Some employees don’t qualify to get a warning, even if the company itself is required to warn its employees of upcoming layoffs. These include:

  • Employees who worked less than 6 months within the last 12-month period.
  • Those working less than 20 hours a week on average.
  • Those participating in a strike or locked out in a labor dispute.
  • Temporary workers (who knew they were temporary when hired).
  • Contract employees and consultants working through and paid by a second employer, like a staffing company.

Exemptions for employers

In general, employers with 100 or more workers have to comply with the law when they’re planning a large mass layoff event. But there are some exceptions. These include:

  • When the employer closes a temporary location or finishes a temporary project, and the employees involved knew at the time of their hiring that the project was temporary.
  • When the employer closes a business unit or facility because of a worker strike.
  • If fewer than 50 workers at a single facility will lose their job as a result of the layoff.
  • If 50 to 499 workers will lose their jobs, but that is less than 33% of the total active workforce at a single location.
  • If it’s a temporary layoff of 6 months or less.
  • If employee work hours are not reduced more than 50% in each month of a 6-month period as a result of this layoff.

In addition, even when employers are required to give notice under the WARN Act, there are three situations where they don’t have to give the full 60 days of notice.

When claiming these exceptions, employers have to release a statement regarding the reason for giving shorter notice.

The exceptions include:

When the company is struggling, and believes that giving advance warning would potentially jeopardize a loan or other infusion of capital that might prevent layoffs.

When there’s a natural disaster. Sometimes facility closings or mass layoffs happen as a result of a natural disaster such as a storm, flood, or earthquake. If that’s the case, notice can be given after the disaster.

When there are unforeseeable circumstances. Sometimes there’s a major unforeseen event that results in the closure of a business facility or plant, or requires mass layoffs. Some things that might qualify as unforeseeable circumstances include:

  • The unforeseen cancellation of an important contract
  • A government-ordered closing of the business
  • A major economic downturn

Some companies try to claim exceptions to the WARN Act during bankruptcy, and these are usually decided on a case-by-case basis.

State and local WARN Act exceptions 

The WARN Act operates at the federal level, and there are some state and local laws that add additional protections.

Pennsylvania does not have additional WARN Act laws at the state level, but the city of Philadelphia has extended WARN Act protections to apply to businesses with 50 or more employees.

Questions about your WARN Act rights? Ask a Pennsylvania employment lawyer.

If you’re not sure whether your employer has violated your right to know ahead of time about a mass layoff, you should ask an employment lawyer.

The WARN Act comes with a lot of exceptions, and COVID-19 is still impacting these laws in unexpected ways. An expert employment attorney can help determine whether your rights have been violated—and hold your employer accountable.

Call us at 267-273-1054 or email us at murphy@phillyemploymentlawyer.com for a free, confidential consultation today.

The information provided here does not constitute legal advice. It is intended for general purposes only. If you have questions about a specific legal issue, you should speak to an attorney.