On Thursday, members of both the House and Senate reintroduced the Federal Oversight, Reform, and Enforcement of the WARN (FOREWARN) Act (H.R. 3042, S. 1374). This legislation would amend the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act by requiring more and smaller employers to notify workers of mass firings or plant closings and increasing employer penalties and enforcement mechanisms.
According to a press release issued by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), the chief sponsor of the Senate bill, the FOREWARN Act would apply to employers with at least 75 employees, reduced from the current 100-employee threshold required to initiate coverage. Additionally, the Act would reduce the number of laid off employees needed to constitute a plant closing from 50 to 25, and lower the mass layoff trigger. According to Sen. Brown, this lower threshold would protect employees in both manufacturing and service firms. In addition, the FOREWARN Act would require an employer to provide 90-day written notice (up from the current 60-day notice mandate) to employees and appropriate state and local governments before ordering a plant closing or mass layoff. The bill expands the recipients of such notification to the Secretary of Labor, elected officials including the governor, member(s) of Congress, state representatives, and union leaders if applicable. The notification must include 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. The bill would also give the DOL the authority to enforce the WARN Act, and would increase employer penalties for violations to double back pay. Under current law, an employer is only liable for back pay.
The FOREWARN Act was first introduced in 2007. Given the current state of the economy and increased unemployment and employer closing rates, this bill could garner more support this time around.
The House FOREWARN Act bill has been referred to House Committee on Education and Labor. The Senate companion bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.