The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) requires employers who anticipate a “plant closing” or “mass layoff” to give at least 60 calendar days advance notice to affected employees. This notice period is intended to provide workers an opportunity to find new employment or obtain job training before their termination. Employers who fail to provide the required notice under WARN are liable for back pay and benefits for the period for which notice was not given, in addition to civil money penalties (with some exceptions). WARN requires covered employers who are planning to anticipate a “plant closing” or “mass layoff” to provide advance notice to affected employees (or bargaining representatives), the state’s agency designated to carry out rapid response activities and the chief elected local government official in which the employment site is located.
WARN applies to any business enterprise employing either 100 or more employees, excluding part-time employees; or 100 or more employees, including part-time employees, who in the aggregate work at least 4,000 hours per week exclusive of overtime. The Illinois "mini" WARN statute applies to businesses with 75 or more employees. Workers on temporary layoff or on leave who have a reasonable expectation of recall are counted as employees. The employer’s size is determined by counting the number of employees on the date on which notice of the layoff or closing would be due, unless that number is not representative of the normal level of employees. For example, if the number of employees on a particular date is higher because of additional seasonal help, then you should use an average number of employees over a recent period of time or choose an alternative date. Regular federal, state and local government entities that provide public services are not covered.
It is important to note that a company and its wholly or partially owned subsidiary may be considered a single employer and thus the number of employees in each company may be combined in determining whether layoffs by both companies trigger WARN notice requirements, even if neither company has 100 employees (or 75 employees for purposes of the Illinois "mini" WARN statute). While WARN does not apply to regular Federal, state, local and federally recognized Indian tribal governments, it does apply to public and quasi-public businesses that are separately organized from the regular government, have their own governing bodies and have independent authority to manage their personnel and assets. WARN also can apply to public and quasi-public entities if they are engaged in business and are organized separately from the regular government. This includes the entity having its own governing body and independent authority to manage its own personnel and assets. Examples may include regional transportation authorities and independent municipal utilities.
For purposes of WARN:
This term may include workers who would traditionally be understood as “seasonal” employees. The period to be used for calculating whether a worker has worked an “average of fewer than 20 hours per week” is the shorter of the actual time the worker has been employed or the most recent 90 days.
“Affected employees” are entitled to notice. The term “affected employees” means those who may reasonably be expected to experience an employment loss as a consequence of a proposed plant closing or mass layoff by their employer. Each employee is entitled to a full 60-day calendar days prior notice, including part-time employees, employees on temporary layoffs who have a reasonable expectation of recall and regular full-time employees. Importantly, although part-time employees are not counted and temporary employees are counted in determining whether a mass layoff or plant closing has occurred, it is part-time employees and not temporary employees who are entitled to notice. Likewise, you must notify any employees on temporary layoff who have an expectation of recall. For example, you must provide notice to employees out on workers’ compensation, medical, maternity or other similar leave.
WARN does not require employers to give notice to those employees that strike or are part of the bargaining unit involved in the labor negotiations that led to a lockout, temporary workers or non-employees assigned to or contracting with, the business.
If employees are represented by a union, written notice must be served upon the chief elected officer of the union or bargaining agent of affected employees at the time of the notice. If this person is not the same as the officer of the local union(s) representing affected employees, it is recommended that a copy also be given to the local union official(s).
The employer also must notify the chief elected official of the unit of local government within which the layoff or closing will occur, as well as the state dislocated worker unit. If more than one unit of local government is involved, the notice must be provided to the chief elected official of the unit to which the company paid the highest taxes in the previous year.
WARN can apply when an employer sells a part of its business or its assets. Whether the seller or the buyer is responsible for giving notice depends on when the plant closing or mass layoff is to occur. Generally, if it occurs before or on the day the sale becomes effective, then the seller is responsible. If it is after the day the sale becomes effective, then the buyer is responsible. In such a case, the buyer would be responsible for providing the full 60– days’ notice. If the seller knew of the buyer’s intentions and was empowered to give notice as the buyer’s agent, it could give notice on behalf of the buyer. Even so, under WARN, responsibility would remain with the buyer. If an employee is offered, but refuses, employment with the buyer, this is considered a voluntary departure and does not constitute an employment loss. However, this situation could constitute constructive discharge if employment with the buyer would result in a significant change in wages, benefits, working conditions or position and, as a result, trigger the notice requirement.
For purposes of WARN, if employees of the seller become employees of the buyer and did not suffer an employment loss where employees were idled or deprived of income, notice obligations are not triggered. However, if a plant closing or mass layoff results from the sale, then WARN would apply. Given the complexities of this analysis, employers should consult with legal counsel to determine their notice requirements in the event of a sale or purchase of a business.
WARN provides for three situations in which the notification period may be less than 60 days. An employer qualifying for one of the following reductions in the 60-day notification period must provide as much notice as practicable under the circumstances. Also, the notice must contain a brief statement summarizing the reason(s) why giving the normal 60 days of notice was not possible.
Under the natural disaster exception, an employer may give less than 60-days’ notice of a plant closing or mass layoff that results from a natural disaster such as a flood, earthquake, drought, storm, tidal wave or tsunamis or similar effects of nature. The employer can give notice after the event if it can establish that the closing or layoff is a direct result of the natural disaster. Where a plant closing or mass layoff occurs as an indirect result of a natural disaster, this exception does not apply, but the unforeseeable business circumstances exception described below may be applicable.
The faltering company exception is to be construed narrowly and applies only to plant closings; it does not apply to mass layoffs. Under the faltering company exception, the notice period may be reduced if all of the following criteria are met:
However, should an employer attempt to rely on the faltering company exception, it will not be able to restrict its analysis to the financial condition of the facility, operating unit or site to be closed. In addition, a causal connection must exist between the ultimate plant closing and the employer’s failure to obtain capital or business.
The unforeseeable business circumstances exception is intended to apply to situations where a plant closing or mass layoff is caused by some “sudden, dramatic and unexpected” event that, at the time notice would otherwise have been due, was both:
In order to be reasonably foreseeable, the event must have been probable (not possible) – that is, when the objective facts reflect that the plant closing or mass layoff was more likely than not. This inquiry is fact-specific and turns on whether the employer, in failing to anticipate the circumstances that caused the closing or layoff, exercised the same business judgment as would a similarly situated employer facing the same situation. Examples of such situations would include the unexpected termination of a major contract, a strike at the business of a major supplier or an unannounced government-ordered closing.
If an employer needs to extend the date of the plant closing or mass layoff beyond the date or the ending date of any 14-day period announced in the original notice, additional notice is required. This notice should contain the following:
Employment losses of smaller groups of employees occurring at one employment site may be combined in certain situations. In order for the requisite number of employment losses to trigger WARN obligations, these employment losses must occur during any “rolling” 30-day period. For example, if an employer with 100 employees lays off 40 workers and then lays off the remaining 20 workers 25 days later, the 50-employee threshold has been met and WARN would apply. Notice would be required for both sets of employees. Under some circumstances the 30-day window is enlarged to 90 days. Once the 50-employee threshold is met, the 30-day window period closes. Then, if additional employment losses occur at a single site of employment within 90 days, the groups may be aggregated even if the later layoffs alone are not large enough to trigger WARN obligations. For example, the employer should look ahead 90 days and behind 90 days to determine whether employment actions both taken and planned (each of which separately is not of sufficient size to trigger WARN coverage) will, in the aggregate for any 90-day period, reach the minimum numbers for a plant closing or a mass layoff and thus trigger the notice requirements.
An employer is not required to give notice if it can show that the individual events occurred as a result of separate and distinct actions and causes and not the employer’s attempt to evade its obligations under WARN. Therefore, when an employer makes a reduction in force, it must look forward and backward 90 days from each employment loss to determine whether WARN is triggered, obligations arise and notice must be given.
Notice must be delivered in a reasonable manner such that affected employees will receive the written notice at least 60 days before separation. Neither preprinted notices included in each employee’s paycheck or pay envelope nor verbal notices meet these requirements. Conversely, first-class mail and personal delivery are viable options or any other reasonable method of delivery that is designed to ensure receipt 60 days before a closing or layoff is acceptable. If the notice is mailed, it is not effective until it is received.
Written notice to employees who are not represented by a bargaining agent must contain the following information:
Notice to individual employees must be written in clear and specific language such that employees can easily understand the terms.
Written notice must be served upon the bargaining agent/chief elected officer of each the exclusive collective bargaining representative(s) or bargaining agent(s) of affected union employees or local union official and must contain the following information at the time of the notice:
Notice to the State Rapid Response Dislocated Worker Unit and local chief elected official of the unit must contain:
Alternatively, WARN regulations also provide for a short form notice to the State Rapid Response Dislocated Worker Unit and to the chief local elected official. This alternative short form notice must be in writing and must provide the following information:
If the employer provides this alternative short form notice, the employer also must make available to government officials the information that would have been included in the full notice. A failure to provide the necessary information upon request is deemed a failure to give the required notice.
The speed with which businesses reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic, mostly in compliance with emergency declarations requiring non-life sustaining businesses to cease physical operations will no doubt serve as a defense to claims based on the failure to provide the 60-days’ advance notice ordinarily required by WARN. But even when the original decision to close or engage in a mass layoff is unforeseen at the outset, businesses must still provide WARN notices as soon as practicable. As COVID-19 cases increase in a second wave, many businesses may be hit with new reasons to curtail their operations. They need to be vigilant about providing WARN notifications “as soon as practicable” if new shutdowns occur.
A worker who experiences a loss of employment without timely notice of mass layoff or plant closing as required by WARN can bring a lawsuit against the employer. The employer is liable for back pay for each day of violation at a rate of compensation determined by the statute. In addition, the employer may be liable for benefits under employee benefit plans, including medical expenses incurred during the employment loss which would have been covered by the benefit plan had the employment loss not occurred.
Lawsuits against an employer may be brought by a local government, employees or the representatives of employees. An employer can be sued in any federal district in which it does business or where the violation occurred.
An employer is liable to an employee for the period of the violation, up to a maximum of 60 days, but not to exceed more than one-half of the number of days the employee worked for the employer. Employer liability for failing to conform to the act’s notice requirements with respect to a unit of local government is limited to $500 per day for each day of violation, up to the ceiling of 60 days.
The remedies provided for in WARN are the exclusive remedies for any violation of the act. Federal courts have no power to prohibit or postpone mass layoffs or plant closings.
The amount of liability must be reduced by any wages or benefits paid to employees during the period of violation and by any “voluntary and unconditional payment” by the employer to the employee that is not required by any legal obligation. Thus, although WARN does not specifically allow pay in lieu of notice, as it would defeat the purpose of WARN, an employer can preclude relief if the employer provides full pay and benefits for the 60-day period. An employer cannot offset its WARN obligations with payments that already were due, such as, severance payments that are required by contract or company policies. The employer’s liability also may be reduced at the discretion of the court, if the employer proves to the satisfaction of the court that the act or omission that violated WARN was in good faith and the employer had reasonable grounds for believing that the act or omission was not a violation of the Act.
A prevailing party in a lawsuit filed under WARN may, in the discretion of the court, recover reasonable costs and attorney’s fees.
In addition to obligations under WARN, some states and municipalities have adopted plant closing or mass layoff laws. None of these laws can reduce an employer’s obligation under WARN, but they may place additional obligations on employers covered by WARN. Moreover, these laws may place the same or additional obligations imposed by WARN on employers not covered by WARN.
The Department of Labor has published WARN compliance assistance materials, including the Worker’s Guide to Advance Notice of Closings and Layoffs and the Employer’s Guide to Advance Notice of Closings and Layoffs, which are available on the U.S. Department of Labor’s website at:
or contact the DOL at:
Additional information about requirements applicable in Illinois to employers with 75 or more employees can be found here: