When an employer in the District of Columbia conducts a mass layoff, downsizes, closes a plant, or otherwise cuts a significant number of jobs, employees have certain rights. Employers are not prohibited from laying off workers when financial times get tough.
But the law does give employees the right to a certain amount of notice before a plant closing or large-scale layoff. If the employer fails to give proper notice, employees are entitled to damages.
The federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act gives employees these rights. Almost half of the states have similar laws; some go further to require that employers pay a small severance or continue employee health benefits for a short period after the layoff.
The District of Columbia offers a unique twist: In the District, employees who work for certain contractors or subcontractors are entitled to keep their jobs, or at least be considered for retention, if a new contractor takes over.
This article provides information on the rights of District of Columbia employees under the federal WARN Act and the District’s displaced worker law. For more information on layoff rights, see the articles at our Losing or Leaving Your Job page for information on how to continue your health benefits, when you should receive your final paycheck, and more.
WARN requires certain larger employers to give advance notice of mass layoffs or plant closings that will result in a certain number or percentage of employees losing their jobs. Employers are covered 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. (Full-time employees are defined as those who work at least 20 hours a week and have been employed for at least six of the 12 months ending on the date when notice must be given under WARN.)
Not every layoff is covered by WARN. WARN applies only to plant closings and mass layoffs.
WARN also applies to plant closings or mass layoffs that occur in stages over 90 days. This rule is intended to prevent employers from getting around WARN’s notice requirements by conducting a series of smaller layoffs over time.
Employees who will lose their jobs in a layoff or plant closing covered by WARN are entitled to notice 60 days in advance. (Employees who are union members don’t get individual notice; instead, the employer must notify their union representatives, who are expected to pass the information along to the affected employees.)
The notice 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.
There are a handful of exceptions to WARN. If one of them applies, an employer either does not have to give notice at all or can give less than 60 days’ notice.
WARN does not apply – and therefore, an employer isn’t legally required to give advance notice of a mass layoff or plant closing – in these circumstances:
Employers may comply with WARN by giving as much notice as they can (even if they give less than 60 days’ notice) in a few situations. An employer who relies on one of these exceptions must give as much notice as possible. As part of the written notice requirement, the employer must state why it couldn’t give the full 60 days that would otherwise be required.
The District of Columbia has a displaced worker law that applies to contractors and subcontractors who employ at least 25 nonprofessional employees as food service, health service, security, janitorial, or building maintenance workers.
If a new contractor takes over the service contract, the previous contractor must provide the names of all employees within ten days after the new contract is awarded. The new contractor must retain all employees who have worked for the past eight months. These employees must be kept on for a 90-day transition period. If the new contractor doesn’t need all of the previous contractor’s covered employees, it must make retention decisions based on seniority within job classifications. Other than this exception, the new contractor may not fire any of the employees without cause during the transition period.
Once the transition period ends, the new contractor must give written performance evaluations. All employees with satisfactory performance must be retained.
In addition, a contractor whose contract is not renewed but is awarded a similar contract within 30 days must hire at least half of the employees from the former site.
If you believe your WARN rights or your rights under the District of Columbia’s displaced worker law have been violated, you should consult with an experienced District of Columbia employment lawyer. Both WARN and the District’s displaced worker law include the right to attorney fees if you win, so they provide an incentive for lawyers to take strong cases. However, the damages available to any one employee are relatively low. Therefore, a lawyer may advise either trying to negotiate a settlement or going forward on behalf of all affected employees, as part of a class action lawsuit.