New Jersey Warns Us to Watch for Mini-WARNs
We are all familiar with the federal WARN Act, which
requires that employers give defined notices to employees ahead of certain
layoffs or plant closings, but it is more difficult for employers to keep
abreast of the ever-changing landscape of “Mini-WARN Acts” (the aptly nicknamed
state laws that imitate the notice requirements of the WARN Act at the state level).
Just last week, for example, New Jersey enacted significant amendments to its own
Mini-WARN statute. New Jersey’s amendments go into effect July 19, 2020.
The new version of the New Jersey law greatly expands employers’
notice requirements. Most notably, employers will be required to count employee
terminations (including part-time employees) occurring anywhere in the state,
rather than just at a single site of employment, when checking whether they
have met the 50-termination notice threshold. This new requirement might
surprise employers who haven’t had to think about WARN notices because their
workforces are spread out to the point that they have fewer than 50 employees
located at any single site.
Additionally, the New Jersey law will mandate severance
payments to terminated employees. Each terminated employee will be entitled to
one week of severance for each year of service they have under their belt. This
severance is increased by an additional four weeks’ pay if less than full
notice of the layoff is given, which under the amended law will be a 90-day
notice, rather than the 60-day notice required by the federal WARN Act.
The variations above all differ meaningfully from the
requirements of the federal WARN act, and such variations from federal law are
not uncommon in states where Mini-WARN Acts have been enacted. Employers, including
employers operating outside of these states, should not assume that compliance
with federal law in the area of WARN notices guarantees compliance with state
law in the same area.
Employers should view New Jersey’s amended Mini-WARN as a
helpful reminder that state-level requirements related to layoff notices are
continually changing. If an employer is planning workforce reductions and they
have not recently taken a look at potentially applicable Mini-WARN Acts, it would
be in their interest to refresh their knowledge as soon as possible. Failure to
do so well before a planned workforce reduction can lead either to delays in
restructuring or to potentially significant liability.