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Layoff Protection for California Employees

California employees who are at risk for layoff have certain legal protections. Employees have the right to notice of a layoff under both California and federal WARN laws.

Employers in California are legally obligated to follow certain protocols if they must downsize, lay off a mass number of employees, close a facility, or make any other significant cuts.

Below is everything you need to know about your protections from layoffs as an employee in California.

California Layoff Notice Requirements

An employer is not legally obligated to employ a worker, nor to rehire an individual into another position in the company. Your employer is well within their rights to let go of their employees when financial times get hard.

However, employers may be obligated to provide advance notice of a layoff or termination.

Employers in California must provide employees with 60 days of advance notice prior to a layoff, or else risk legal liability. This notice is usually referred to as a WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) notice.

The California WARN Act expands upon the federal WARN Act, providing for more protections for employees.

If your employer fails to give proper notice of an upcoming layoff that meets the WARN Act requirements, employees are entitled to damages.

What Is the WARN Act in California?

The WARN Act (also known as the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act) is a federal law that requires employers to provide employees with at least 60 days advanced written notice of a plant closing or mass layoff.

Under the WARN Act, affected employees must be given the required notice before their job loss occurs, or they may be eligible for back pay and benefits for the period of time between the date of the notice and the date of the layoff or plant closing.

California has its own WARN Act, which provides additional protections to employees, including increased compensation and benefits to those affected by a plant closing or mass layoff.

What Employees are Covered Under the WARN Act?

The WARN Act and California’s mini-WARN ACT requires larger employers to give proper advance notice of a plant closing or mass layoff.

The federal WARN Act only covers employers that have at least 100 full-time employees or a combination of 100 employees who work 4,000 hours per week. (Full-time is defined as those working 20 hours per week for six of the twelve months before notice must be given under WARN.)

The California WARN Act provides additional protections to employees of employers with at least 75 or more full-time employees.

Are All Layoffs Covered by the WARN Act?

Most layoffs and plant closings are covered by the WARN Act. However, there are some exceptions.

The California WARN does not apply if:

  • The layoff or closing is the result of the completion of a project or undertaking, and the employees in question were hired with the complete understanding that their employment was always limited to the duration of the completion of the project or undertaking.
  • The employees were hired on a seasonal basis, and the employee that was hired with the understanding that their employment was always seasonal and temporary.
  • The closing or mass layoff is a necessity due to a physical calamity or an act of war.
  • The Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) decides if an employer actively looks for capital or business, and WARN notices would stop the employer from getting the money. (This exception does not apply to notice of a mass layoff as defined in California Labor Code Section 1400 (d).)

What Layoffs Are Covered by the Federal WARN Act?

In general, the federal WARN Act applies to any business that has at least 100 full-time employees or a combination of part-time and full-time workers who total at least 4,000 hours per week.

The federal WARN Act applies to:

  • A mass layoff is defined as a significant reduction in work force resulting in the loss of jobs at a single site of employment for 500 or more full-time employees, or for 50 to 499 full-time employees (only if the number of employees being laid off makes up at least 33% of the entire employer’s active workforce.)
  • A plant closing is the termination of 50 or more full-time jobs at a single employment site, or at least one facility or an operating unit within a single employment location, which occurs over any 30-day period. A single site of employment is defined as a single geographical location of the employer’s operations (this could be a building, an office, or a group of buildings).

WARN also applies to plant closings or mass layoffs that occur gradually over 90 days. This rule is intended to prevent employers from eluding WARN’s notice requirements by conducting a series of smaller layoffs spread out over time.

What Layoffs Are Covered by California’s Mini-WARN Act?

In general, the California mini-WARN Act is similar to the federal WARN Act, except that it applies to employers with 75 or more full-time employees instead of 100.

The mini-WARN Act applies to the following situations in California:

  • A mass layoff is when 50 or more employees lose their jobs within a 30-day period.
  • The termination of an industrial or commercial facility with at least 75 employees.
  • The relocation of an industrial or commercial building with a staff of 75 people or more to another site that is at least 100 miles away.

What is the Required Notice Under California’s Mini-WARN Law?

Employers covered by the mini-WARN Act must provide employees with at least 60 days notice before a layoff or plant closing. This applies to employers that have 75 or more full-time employees, and applies to layoffs of 50 or more within a 30-day period.

The required notice is the same for federal and California law. It must provide specified information about the planned layoffs, including whether they are expected to be temporary or permanent, the expected date when the layoffs will begin and when the employee will receive a termination letter, and whether the employee will have bumping rights.

IMPORTANT: If an employer breaks either the federal or state WARN law, they may be required to pay all workers who were affected by the violation for any lost wages and benefits.

Can Your Employer Ever Provide No Notice of Layoff?

There are some circumstances in which an employer is not required to give employees notice under the WARN laws, including:

  • Employees were hired on a seasonal basis, and the employee that was hired with the understanding that their employment was always seasonal and temporary.
  • The layoff or closing is the result of the completion of a project or undertaking, and the employees in question were hired with the complete understanding that their employment was always limited to the duration of the completion of the project or undertaking.
  • The closing or mass layoff is a necessity due to a physical calamity or an act of nature.
  • The Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) decides if an employer actively looks for capital or business, and WARN notices would stop the employer from getting the money. (This exception does not apply to notice of a mass layoff as defined in California Labor Code Section 1400 (d).)

Are Shorter Notices Allowed?

Employers covered under the WARN laws might be able to provide shorter notice if they are able to demonstrate that providing the required 60 days of notice would cause significant harm to the business.

There are very few exceptions to this rule, and employers must be able to prove that they are unable to provide the full 60-days of notice due to one of the exceptions listed in the WARN Act.

A shorter notice of layoffs may be allowed if:

  • If the reasons for the company shutdown or layoffs weren’t reasonably evident to the employer before they should have given 60 days’ notice, then a shorter period of notice is allowed.
  • The company is faltering and having some significant financial struggles when it should have given 60 days’ notice, it can give a shorter period of notice. The employer must show that it was actively seeking money or business that would have allowed for the company to postpone or avoid the plant closure in entirety and that the employer worked in reasonable good faith that announcing the 60 days notice would have prevented the company from obtaining the necessary capital to maintain business. (This exclusion only applies to plant closures and not mass layoffs.)
  • Significant natural disasters.

Can You Recover Damages for a Violation of WARN Notice Laws?

Yes. If an employer fails to provide the required notice under the WARN Act or California’s mini-WARN Act, the affected employees may be able to recover damages for lost wages, benefits, and other compensation for the period of time between the date of the notice and the date of the layoff or plant closing.

If an employer breaks either the federal or state WARN law, they may be forced to pay all workers who were impacted by the violation their lost wages and benefits for up to 60 days.

If an employer gives less notice than what is legally required, employees are still entitled to the pay and benefits for the number of days they should have received notice. For example, if an employer is supposed to give 60 days’ notice but only gave 40 days’ instead, employees would be entitled to 20 more days’ worth of pay and benefits.

In addition, California employers can be liable for a penalty of up to $500 per day for each day they’re in violation of the WARN Act.

An employer may also be ordered to pay for any attorney fees and court costs associated with a WARN Act violation lawsuit. Fines can also be given to the employer, but this money would go toward the state, not toward the employees.

Have You Been Affected by a Violation of WARN Laws?

If you believe your employer has violated either the federal or state WARN Act, the California employment attorneys at Eldessouky Law may be able to help.

Our experienced attorneys understand the importance of employers following all relevant labor laws, and we’ll fight for your rights to compensation if you were wronged by an employer’s violation of WARN notice laws.

There is no charge for the initial consultation, and you are under no obligation. You can contact our office by either calling 714-409-8991 or by filling out one of our online contact forms.

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