Mass Layoffs and the WARN Act: Federal vs. State Protections
Mass layoffs harm workers and communities.
The WARN Act protects workers.
Mass layoffs affect millions of Americans every year. But many don’t know about the WARN Act.
What is the WARN Act? It’s a law that requires companies to notify employees before a mass layoff. If companies don’t provide notice, they need to pay penalties. At the federal level, companies must provide back pay and benefits for 60 days.
The federal WARN Act protects workers during mass layoffs. Many states also have their own WARN Acts. State laws often provide even stronger protections than the federal act.
The WARN Act also means that companies publicly announce layoffs, often months in advance. You can check the notices in your state to learn about upcoming layoffs.
If you’ve been affected by a mass layoff or plant closure, the WARN Act can guarantee you 60 days of pay and benefits. An employment lawyer can file a WARN Act class action lawsuit against your employer for WARN Act violations.
The Federal WARN Act
The WARN Act protects workers when companies announce mass layoffs. Under the federal WARN Act, employers must give at least 60 days’ notice before a mass layoff.
The federal WARN Act applies to companies with at least 100 employees when they lay off at least 50 employees.
Congress passed the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act in 1988. Under the WARN Act, companies must give employees notice so they can prepare for the job market or pursue additional training.
If companies violate the WARN Act, they must pay penalties to their employees. These include back pay and benefits for the 60 days prior to a layoff.
States with Mini-WARN Acts
Many states have passed their own versions of the WARN Act, sometimes called mini-WARN Acts. These state laws often provide additional protections for workers. Employment lawyers can help protect your rights if you experience a mass layoff.
California WARN Act
California has its own WARN Act to protect workers. The WARN Act CA has stronger protections than the federal WARN Act.
For example, California’s act applies to companies with at least 75 workers, which includes part-time workers. When companies lay off 50 or more employees, they must provide a WARN notification.
Learn more about the California WARN Act.
New York WARN Act
New York has a state WARN Act that offers stronger protections than the federal law.
In New York, the WARN Act applies to companies with at least 50 workers. When a closing affects 25 or more workers, employers need to provide at least 90 days notice.
If employers violate the WARN Act in New York, employees can receive up to 60 days’ back pay.
Learn more about the New York WARN Act.
WARN Act in Illinois
Illinois WARN covers companies with 75 or more full-time employees. Employers must provide 60 days of notice before mass layoffs or plant closures.
In Illinois, workers have more protections under the Illinois WARN than the federal law. That’s because the state defines a mass layoff as firing as few as 25 employees.
Learn more about the WARN Act in Illinois.
WARN Act in New Jersey
In 2023, New Jersey strengthened its WARN Act. Currently, employers must provide 90 days’ notice before mass layoffs or plant closures. Employers must provide notice if 50 or more employees will lose their jobs, regardless of whether they’re full-time or part-time employees. That also covers all layoffs at a company’s New Jersey locations, rather than simply one site.
The NJ WARN Act covers all employers with 100 or more employees, counting both full-time and part-time workers.
These strengthened protections mean more employers must follow the NJ WARN Act. And more workers will benefit from the act’s protections.
Learn more about the WARN Act in New Jersey.
Other States with Mini-WARN Acts
Several other states have passed mass layoff laws at the state level. These include:
- New Hampshire
States without Mini-WARN Acts
More than half of states do not have state-level mass layoff laws. In these states, the federal WARN Act still protects workers who experience a mass layoff. An employment attorney can help you protect your rights during a layoff.
Is there a Texas WARN Act? The Lone Star State does not have its own state-level act. Texans who are part of a mass layoff are still covered under the federal law.Texas lists companies planning mass layoffs and plant closures on their list of WARN notices.
More than half of states don’t have their own state-level WARN Act. Florida is one of those states. But that doesn’t leave Floridians with zero protections. The federal act still covers Florida employees. Florida publishes WARN notices received from employers in the state. These notices list planned mass layoffs and plant closures, including how many workers will be affected.
Washington does not have its own mass layoff laws. Instead, Washingtonians are covered under the federal WARN Act. In Washington, the state publishes WARN notices from companies planning to lay off workers or close plants.
Do workers in the Peach State have their own mass layoff protections? While there isn’t a Georgia WARN Act, workers are still protected under the federal law.In Georgia, you can check the WARN notices to learn about companies planning mass layoffs or plant closures.
Is there a PA WARN Act? Pennsylvania does not have its own state-level mass layoff laws. But PA workers still have protections under the federal law.Pennsylvania also publishes WARN notices from companies who plan to lay off workers and close plants in the state.
Virginia doesn’t have its own mass layoff law. Instead, Virginia employees have protections through the federal act.In Virginia, the state government posts WARN notices for upcoming mass layoffs and plant closures.
Is there a WARN Act in Ohio? Ohio workers have job protection under the federal law, but Ohio does not have its own mini-WARN. You can find public notices of mass layoffs and closures through the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.
WARN Notice Requirements
What is a WARN Act notice? The federal WARN Act requires employers to provide notice to their employees before a mass layoff.
The WARN notice must include:
- Whether the layoff is permanent or temporary
- The date of the layoff and the last date of work
- Contact information to receive additional information
This WARN notice must be in writing. A verbal announcement does not count as notice. In addition, layoff notices in regular pay statements do not meet the 60-day notice requirement.
If your employer notifies you less than 60 days before your layoff date, you may have a WARN Act case.
Many state WARN Acts also require notice. For example, in New York, employers must give 90 days’ notice before mass layoffs.
WARN Act Violations and Penalties
Companies that commit WARN Act violations face penalties, including back pay and benefits to their employees.
WARN Act penalties include:
- Back wages
- Civil penalties
Companies that violate the WARN Act in California, for example, pay a $500 civil penalty per day for every violation.
The court system enforces the WARN Act. That means workers can file a lawsuit, including a class action suit, for WARN Act violations.
Comparing Federal and State WARN Act Protections
Federal and state WARN Acts offer different protections for workers affected by mass layoffs. However, in most states, employees only have mass layoff protection through the federal act.
The federal WARN Act requires 60 days’ notice before a mass layoff or plant closure. Many state laws also require 60 days’ notice, though some set a longer requirement. In New York, for example, employers must notify employees 90 days before a mass layoff.
The federal WARN Act applies to companies with at least 100 employees, not including part-time employees. New York’s law applies to companies with 50 employees. The California WARN Act applies to companies with at least 75 employees, including part-time employees.
State and federal laws define mass layoffs differently. Under the federal law, a mass layoff must affect at least a third of employees OR over 500 employees. In some states, these laws protect employees when as few as 25 workers lose their jobs.
Because WARN Act protections vary by state, it’s a good idea to reach out to an employment lawyer if you’ve been laid off.
Frequently Asked Questions about the WARN Act
What is the WARN Act?
The WARN Act requires employers to provide notice before mass layoffs or plant closures.
Under the federal WARN Act, employers must give at least 60 days’ notice if they lay off more than one-third of workers OR more than 500 employees. Many states have their own WARN Acts. Under the
California WARN Act, employers must give at least 60 days’ notice if they lay off more than 50 workers.
Employers must also notify their employees about the sale of the business if it may lead to layoffs or closures.
What is a mass layoff under the WARN Act?
Under the federal WARN Act, a mass layoff is:
- 50 employees (at least ⅓ of the company’s workforce) laid off in a 30-day period
- 500 employees laid off in a 30-day period, regardless of company size
- Closing down a work site and laying off at least 50 employees in a 30-day period
Some state mass layoff acts use a different definition of a mass layoff. For example, the New York WARN Act applies to companies as small as 50 employees, while the federal act only applies to companies with 100 employees or more. In New York, a layoff of 25 employees triggers the act, while the federal law requires a layoff affecting at least 50 employees.
When state WARN Acts use a smaller definition of mass layoff, the law covers more workers.
What is the purpose of the WARN Act?
The WARN Act gives workers time to prepare for a layoff. Advanced notice means workers can prepare for the job market, learn about unemployment insurance, or apply to training programs. The WARN notice requirement increases the chances of finding a new job.
The WARN Act also helps workers receive information about unemployment insurance, workforce training programs, and other unemployment support from local governments.
What is a WARN notice?
A WARN notice informs employees of mass layoffs or closures. By providing notice, employers give their workers time to look for a new job and prepare for the end of their current job.
The WARN notice must state:
- If the layoff is permanent or temporary
- The date of the layoff and the final date of work
- Contact information for additional information
If companies do not provide WARN notice 60 days before the layoff date, they violate the WARN Act. Employees can sue their employer for back pay and benefits. Some states require 90 days’ notice.
What are WARN Act penalties?
Employers who violate the WARN Act face civil penalties. WARN Act penalties include daily fines and back pay for workers.
For example, if a company laid off 500 workers and did not provide a WARN notice, those employees can file a class action lawsuit to recover 60 days of pay and benefits for each affected worker.
What states have WARN Acts?
Workers in every state have protections under the federal WARN Act. However, some states have also passed their own mass layoff laws.
The major states with WARN Acts include California, New York, Illinois, and New Jersey. Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Iowa also have state-level laws. Finally, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Maine have their own mass layoff acts.
If you were laid off and your employer did not provide a WARN notice, contact an employment lawyer to find out if you have a WARN Act case. Employment lawyer Charles Joseph offers free consultations on WARN Act cases.