Have you been laid off from your job in Vermont? Unfortunately for employees, no law prohibits employers – including those in Vermont -- from closing a plant or laying off workers. However, you may have some rights, even if you don’t have the right to keep your job.
If you are in a union, you might have layoff rights through your collective bargaining agreement. For example, you may have the right to be considered first for rehire or to “bump” less senior employees who were not selected for layoffs.
You may also have the right to advance notice. The federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act gives employees the right to notice of an impending plant closing or large-scale layoff. Employers who don’t give the required notice can be ordered to pay damages.
Some states also have notice laws, most of them modeled on WARN (called “mini-WARN” laws). A few state even require employers to pay a small severance or continue employee health insurance for a short period after the layoff. However, Vermont doesn’t have its own layoff or plant closing law. In Vermont, employees are protected only by the WARN Act.
This article explains the rights of Vermont employees under the WARN Act. (See our Losing or Leaving Your Job page for more information on your rights when you lose your job, including how to continue your health benefits, when you should receive your final paycheck, and more.)
Coverage Under WARN
WARN applies only to larger employers, and only to substantial job actions in which a specified number or percentage of employees will lose their jobs.
Small employers don’t have to comply with WARN’s notice requirements. Employers are covered by WARN only if they have at least 100 full-time employees, or at least 100 employees who work a combined 4,000 hours or more per week. (A full-time employee is someone who works at least 20 hours a week and has worked for the employer for at least six of the 12 months before notice is required.)
Mass Layoffs and Plant Closings
WARN applies only if a significant number of jobs are lost in a plant closing or mass layoff.
A mass layoff is a reduction in force resulting in job loss at a single employment site for
- 500 or more full-time employees, or
- 50 to 499 full-time employees, if the number of employees laid off makes up at least 33% of the employer’s active workforce.
A plant closing occurs when an employer shuts down a single site of employment, or at least one operating unit or facility within a site, resulting in 50 or more full-time employees losing their jobs during any 30-day period.
If a Vermont employer is subject to WARN, it must notify employees 60 days in advance of a mass layoff or plant closing. Employees who will lose their jobs are entitled to notice; for employees who are union members, the employer must notify their union representative instead.
Among other things, the notice must explain the date when layoffs are expected to begin, whether the layoffs are expected to be temporary or permanent, and the date when the employee will receive a termination letter.
Employers can’t always give the full 60-day notice the law requires. WARN recognizes this by allowing some exceptions.
An employer doesn’t have to give any advance notice of a mass layoff or plant closing that is the result of an employee strike or lockout. An employer may also forego giving notice altogether if it lets go of employees who were hired only for a temporary project that has been completed, or as a result of closing a temporary work facility. But this exception applies only if the employees knew, when they were hired, that their jobs were temporary.
Sometimes, WARN allows employers to give less than 60 days’ notice. An employer who relies on one of these exceptions must give as much notice as possible, however, and explain why it couldn’t give the full 60 days that would otherwise be required.
- Natural disasters. Less than 60 days’ notice may be provided if the layoff or plant closing results from a natural disaster.
- Unforeseeable business circumstances. Shorter notice is allowed if the reasons for the plant closing or layoff were not reasonably foreseeable when the employer should have given 60 days’ notice.
- Faltering company. An employer may give less than 60 days’ notice if the company was actively seeking business or money that would have allowed it to postpone or avoid the plant closing altogether, and it reasonably believed, in good faith, that giving the full notice required by WARN would have precluded it from obtaining the necessary business or money. (This exception applies only to plant closings, not mass layoffs.)
If Your Rights Are Violated
The federal Department of Labor is responsible for interpreting and explaining WARN through regulations. However, the agency isn’t authorized to investigate employee complaints or file lawsuits against employers that violate the law. Employees must file a lawsuit in federal court to assert their WARN rights.
Workers who don’t receive the notice required by WARN can be awarded all compensation and benefits lost due to the WARN violation, up to the full 60 days WARN requires. This amount is reduced by any wages earned or severance payments the employer made voluntarily during that time. For example, if an employer gave no notice under WARN, but paid employees four weeks of severance, it could be required to pay 32 days’ worth of damages.
If your WARN rights have been violated, you should consult with an experienced Vermont employment attorney. You are entitled to attorney fees if you win a WARN lawsuit, which gives attorneys an extra incentive to take a good case. Because the damages available to any one employee are relatively low, an attorney might suggest going forward as part of a class action, on behalf of all of the employees who did not get the notice required by WARN.