Employees have certain rights when a Maine employer conducts a mass layoff, closes a facility, or otherwise cuts a significant number of jobs. Employees don’t have a legal entitlement to keep their jobs or to be considered for rehire. Employers are not prohibited from letting go off workers when financial times get tough.
However, employees do have 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, and Maine is one of them. Maine law requires employers to give notice when they relocate or discontinue their business operations. Maine also requires employers to pay severance to employees who have been with the company for at least three years.
This article provides information on the rights of Maine employees under the federal WARN Act and Maine law. For more information on your rights when you are laid off (including when you should receive your final paycheck and how to continue your health benefits), see the articles at our Losing or Leaving Your Job page.
The coverage rules under federal and state law differ.
Under the federal WARN Act, 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.)
Under Maine law, any business enterprise that has employed at least 100 employees at any time during the last 12 months is covered.
Not every layoff or plant closing is covered by federal or state law.
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.
Maine’s plant closing law applies whenever a covered employer discontinues its business or relocates its business operations at least 100 miles distant.
If a layoff or plant closing is covered by WARN or Maine law, employees who will lose their jobs are entitled to notice 60 days in advance. (Employees who are union members need not receive individual notice; instead, the employer must notify their bargaining reps, 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.
In some situations, an employer either does not have to give notice at all or can give less than 60 days’ notice. Under Maine law, the only exception is for job losses due to physical calamity. WARN recognizes a number of exceptions, however.
WARN does not apply to temporary or seasonal employees or to temporary projects that are completed, as long as the employees knew when hired that the jobs were for a limited time. It also doesn’t apply to job losses occasioned by strikes or lockouts.
Under the federal WARN Act, 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. If an employer relies on one of these exceptions, it must give as much notice as possible and must state (as part of the written notice requirement) why it couldn’t give the full 60 days that would otherwise be required.
Maine is one of the few states that gives employees the right to benefits when they lose their jobs in a relocation or business closure. Employers must provide one week of severance pay for each year of employment to all employees who have worked for the employer for at least three years.
If you believe your rights under WARN or Maine’s plant closing law have been violated, you should consult with an experienced Maine employment lawyer. WARN includes the right to attorney fees if you win, so it provides 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.