New Bill Would Beef up WARN Act

July 6, 2009 ( - Employers would face tougher mandates to provide advance notice of pending large-scale layoffs and face tougher sanctions for non-compliance under a new legislative proposal.

A news release said three Congressional lawmakers introduced companion Senate and House versions of theFederal Oversight, Reform, and Enforcement of the WARN (FOREWARN) Act, which they said would strengthen the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act.

Congress passed the WARN Act in 1988 to give workers and communities 60 days advance notice to adjust to an impending plant closing or mass layoff.

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is the Senate sponsor of the new bill, while U.S. Representatives George Miller (D-California) and John McHugh (R-New York) are the House sponsors. Miller chairs the House Education and Labor Committee.

According to the sponsors’ announcement, the FOREWARN Act would:

  • give the U.S. Department of Labor (DoL) the authority to enforce the WARN Act;
  • increase penalties for violation to double back pay;
  • reduce the mass layoff figure from 50 to 25;
  • reduce the employer size from 100 to 75 employees;
  • lower the mass layoff trigger;
  • lengthen the notification period from 60 to 90 days;
  • require employers to provide written notification to the DoL that includes the reason for the plant closing or mass layoff, whether the employer has jobs elsewhere, and a statement of each employee’s right to wages and benefits; and
  • also expand recipients of notification to include the Secretary of Labor, elected officials including the governor, member(s) of Congress, and state representatives, and the appropriate labor union(s) when applicable.

“Mass layoffs send shockwaves through individual households and entire communities,” Brown said, in the news release. “This bill is about protecting workers and helping communities respond to mass layoffs. The WARN Act was supposed to give employees time to find a new job. Unfortunately, fair notice has become the exception not the rule.”

Miller added: “Workers deserve more than just a pink slip when they lose their job because of our nation’s economic difficulties. Current protections for workers being laid off are both confusing and rarely enforced. While an early warning may not save their job, a meaningful early notice will help them prepare to find a new job or upgrade their skills for new employment.”