The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act safeguards workers, families and communities from plant closings or mass layoffs by stipulating that employers give a 60-day notice to employees as well as state and local representatives.

The advance notice helps give workers time to transition from the loss of their job to the prospect of new employment and, if necessary, seek new skills through training or upgrade their current abilities to position themselves in the job market successfully.

General provisions of the WARN Act

California’s version of the law is modeled after the federal WARN Act, but the state offers enhanced protections to a broader range of workers. The critical components of the law include:

  • Which workers are covered?: Anyone who works for a company that has employed at least 75 full and part-time employees during the previous 12 months. Workers must have been employed for at least six of the 12 months preceding the date of the required layoff or closure notice.
  • When are notices required?: Sixty-day notices are mandated for any plant closure regardless of the number of workers, for layoffs of 50 or more workers within a 30-day period irrespective of the total number of workers, and for relocation of at least 100 miles affecting ANY number of employees.
  • Who has legal jurisdiction?: While lawsuits filed under the federal WARN Act must be tried in U.S. District Court, complaints under California’s law can be filed in “any court of competent jurisdiction.” Companies sued under the state law are also subject to an investigation by the California Labor Commissioner.
  • What penalties can result?: Employers that violate the law face a possible civil penalty of $500 per day for each day of the violation. Workers can receive back pay set at their final rate, or 3-year average compensation rate, whichever is higher. In addition, the court may award at least a portion of attorney’s fees to plaintiffs.

Some exceptions are allowed

Under provisions in the California Labor Code, the WARN Act may not apply to specific industries, such as construction, drilling, logging, mining and the motion picture industry, when workers were hired with an understanding that their employment was for a limited time.

Additionally, beginning in March, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order making allowances for companies that have to shut down their businesses rapidly due to the coronavirus pandemic. If you or your family are affected by the sudden loss of employment, an experienced employment law attorney can help you determine whether the company’s actions comply with California law.