In New Brief, Groups Underscore WARN Act’s Clear Requirements, Explain Importance of Advance Notice of Layoffs to Workers and Communities

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the National Employment Law Project (NELP) filed a brief in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Jones v. Scribe Opco Inc. urging the court to reject an interpretation of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining (WARN) Act that would weaken statutory protections for workers facing layoffs.

The case centers on working people’s right to be notified ahead of a mass layoff as required by the WARN Act. The unions’ brief, filed by Democracy Forward, explains that the defendant has incorrectly interpreted the WARN Act, which Congress enacted to minimize some of the negative impacts caused by mass layoffs. 

The WARN Act generally requires employers to provide workers with a 60-day notice period ahead of a plant closing or mass layoff. There are, however, three limited exceptions: a “faltering company” exception, an “unforeseeable business circumstances” exception, which requires employers to provide as much notice as possible, and a “natural disaster” exception, which allows an employer to provide no notice of the layoff. As the unions detail in their brief, the “natural disaster” exception requires employers to demonstrate that a mass layoff is a direct result of a natural disaster. In cases like this where a layoff is caused by an economic downturn – such as the one spurred by COVID-19 – the WARN Act requires employers to provide workers as much notice as possible.

Extensive evidence exists detailing the immense harm to individual workers and communities when workers are laid off, en masse, without sufficient warning. Long-term unemployment can result in workers struggling to find work with comparable pay and benefits, decreasing long-term earning potential. Displaced workers face an increased risk of mental and physical health issues, such as depression and anxiety. Advance notice is critical to protecting workers, their families, and their communities. 

A copy of the brief is available here

The following leaders are available to speak to press about the importance of statutory protections for workers facing layoffs:

  • Chris Shelton, President of the Communications Workers of America states, “Now more than ever, we have to guarantee protections for workers who are facing unprecedented challenges from the pandemic and ongoing workplace issues. The WARN Act is an important check on corporate power, requiring companies to provide sufficient notice to workers before massive layoffs. Instead of taking responsibility, companies in clear violation of this law are seeking to undermine it. We will not stand for it. We will continue to join with our allies to defend workers’ rights and hold companies accountable.”
  • Mary Kay Henry, International President of the Service Employees International Union says, “This is not a gray area — The WARN Act clearly requires employers to give workers advance notice before a layoff due to COVID policies. No matter what you look like, where you’re from or what you do for a living, every person working in our country needs the ability to plan for their immediate future. As we look to move past the pandemic, our justice system cannot continue to allow unscrupulous corporations to use any excuse to deny workers their rights. It is vital that the Court upholds the WARN Act to ensure every worker is respected, protected, and paid in these uncertain times.”
  • Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers says, “Working people keep our economy afloat, yet the gap between the wealthiest Americans and the rest of us has never been larger. Too many families struggle to access the middle class and face heartbreaking choices between basics like housing, groceries and medication, yet corporate profits continue to soar. The WARN Act helps level the playing field, offering working people critical protections on the job, including adequate warning from their employers prior to major layoffs. In this brief, we join our union family and allies in urging the court to reject any misinterpretation of this important law and to continue requiring large companies to do right by their workforces and provide ample notice to any worker who is at risk of losing their livelihood.”
  • Cathy Ruckelshaus, General Counsel & Legal Director of the National Employment Law Project says, “The National Employment Law Project (NELP) believes that all workers have the right to dignity at work and to earn a living, including sustaining themselves when they are out of work while looking for another job. The WARN Act provides a minimum notice requirement on employers deciding to shut down or lay off workers and any exception to that basic fairness rule should be strictly scrutinized. The company here could have provided more notice to its workers, and it should be held to account for failing to do so.”
  • Skye Perryman, President & CEO of Democracy Forward states, “The WARN Act enables state and local governments to help laid-off employees find new jobs, gives workers time to retrain, apply for new jobs, and adjust their financial circumstances before losing income. These are critical protections in the face of an ongoing pandemic. We’re honored to represent leading unions in urging the court to reject an incorrect interpretation of the WARN Act’s requirements that will deny workers notice of layoffs — hurting them, their families, and their communities.”

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Democracy Forward Foundation (“Democracy Forward”) is a nonprofit legal organization founded in 2017 that litigates cases involving government action on behalf of organizations, individuals, and municipalities. The organization has taken 650 legal actions and achieved victories supporting democracy and improving the lives and wellbeing of people and communities. Democracy Forward Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

The Communications Workers of America represents working people in telecommunications, customer service, media, airlines, health care, public service and education, manufacturing, tech, and other fields.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) unites 2 million diverse members in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. SEIU members working in the healthcare industry, in the public sector and in property services believe in the power of joining together on the job to win higher wages and benefits and to create better communities while fighting for a more just society and an economy that works for all of us, not just corporations and the wealthy.

The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.

AFSCME’s 1.4 million members provide the vital services that make America happen. With members in communities across the nation, serving in hundreds of different occupations — from nurses to corrections officers, child care providers to sanitation workers — AFSCME advocates for fairness in the workplace, excellence in public services and freedom and opportunity for all working families.

Founded in 1969, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) is a leading nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to building a just and inclusive economy where all workers have expansive rights and thrive in good jobs. Together with local, state, and national partners, NELP advances its mission through transformative legal and policy solutions, research, capacity-building, and communications. Learn more at www.nelp.org.

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Democracy Forward
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