Even with the economy making its slow recover, mass layoffs are still almost common place in our society. What protections do employees have when faced with a mass layoff or plant closure? Does an employer have to provide any benefits or assistance to the employee?
Washington state employees have faced potential mass layoffs with each budget crisis that threatened a government shutdown and they are not the only ones. Federal and private sector employees have either in the past or are currently faced with mass layoffs. Sequestration has caused a Virginia contractor to make major cuts across the board, including major layoffs. In June, the Puget Sound Business Journal noted Boeing’s fourth layoff notice in a two month period. These layoffs and plant closures can be stressful and confusing times for employees and employers alike, so it is good to have some protections in place.
WARN Act Notification
When Boeing sent out the layoff notices it was, in part, because of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act. The WARN Act is a federal law that requires employers, generally not government employers, with more than 100 employees to send out a notice 60 days before a mass layoff, plant closure, or in some cases the sale of a business or part of a business. The written notices go out to qualifying employees that include hourly and salaried workers, managers and supervisors. These notices are meant to allow employees the opportunity to find other employment or to get training or retraining that will allow them to find equivalent employment elsewhere. The notices do not, however, provide any additional contractual benefits to the employee from the employer. The WARN Act does encourage employers who are not covered under the act to participate in the notifications, as well. Furthermore, some employers go beyond the required notifications and provide the affected employees with assistance in finding other employment when possible.
Washington, like most states, does not have a state level WARN Act law governing mass layoffs. However, there are some guidelines that an employer must follow when going forward with a layoff. Generally, when an employment relationship is terminated it is on a smaller scale. The state guidelines and the employment agreement between the employee and employer govern these terminations. The employment agreement will set the terms and conditions for termination and what benefits, if any the employee will receive upon termination. Employment termination terms are usually agreed upon at the start of the employment relationship and generally can only be renegotiated when there is a significant change in circumstances like a major promotion. Careful drafting and reading of employment agreements is always a good idea. Knowing at the start of employment what may be required at termination, like signing a non-compete agreement, and what benefits can be expected, like severance pay, can alleviate some of the stresses of termination.
Occasionally, legal disputes arise during employment termination. These disputes can be on either side and can be quite complex. An experienced employment attorney may be of assistance during these stressful employment termination situations.