HomeFamily LawUnderstanding the WARN Act in California: Key Compliance Tips

Understanding the WARN Act in California: Key Compliance Tips

The “WARN Act California” is an important law that requires larger employers in California to provide advance notification of certain plant closings and mass layoffs. As an employee or employer in California, having a solid grasp of your rights and responsibilities under the “Warn Act California” is essential.

The “WARN Act California,” officially known as the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act is a California law that applies to businesses with 75 or more full-time employees. It requires these larger employers to give at least 60 days advance notification of plant closings and mass layoffs to help workers transition and seek replacement jobs or skills training.

The purpose of the “Warn Act California” is to ensure employees receive adequate, advance word if their employment is being terminated so they have sufficient time to adjust their finances, seek new employment, enter skill training programs, and if necessary, seek state assistance.

Key Differences Between Federal and California WARN Acts

While the federal WARN Act only applies to employers with 100 or more full-time workers, California’s wage thresholds are lower. The “WARN Act California” affects businesses with just 75 or more full-time employees. This means small and medium-sized businesses in the state must comply with notification rules.

Additionally, the “Warn Act California” has unique exceptions for the motion picture, construction, and non-profit industries. Employers in these industries may have different requirements for serving notices to employees under impending layoffs.

Which Businesses Must Comply with WARN Act Rules?

The “WARN Act California” applies to private sector and non-profit businesses that employ 75 or more persons (excluding part-time employees). That includes:

  • For-profit companies and corporations
  • Private universities and schools
  • Hospitals
  • Manufacturers
  • Newspapers and digital media companies
  • Construction firms
  • Motion picture and video production companies

If an employer plans to have a mass layoff, relocation, or termination of any site of employment or one or more facilities, it must provide proper notice under the “Warn Act California.”

What Triggers Notification Requirements?

The “WARN Act California” sets two thresholds for when advanced notification is legally required:

Mass Layoffs: Any one-time employment loss at a single site for at least 50 full-time workers (excluding part-time employees).

What Triggers Notification Requirements?

Plant Closings: The permanent or temporary shutdown of a single site of employment if it results in an employment loss of at least 50 full-time employees (excluding part-time employees).

Employment loss refers not just to layoffs, but also to jobs that are lost due to the expiration of temporary or seasonal work.

If employers meet either of these two thresholds of significant employment loss, notifications are compulsory under the “WARN Act California.”

What Are the Notice Requirements for Employers?

The “WARN Act California” requires covered employers to provide a 60-day written notice ahead of impending plant closures or mass layoffs.

This written notice must contain:

  • Statement of whether the planned action is expected to be permanent or temporary
  • Date of the first separation and schedule of separations
  • Job titles and descriptions of affected employees
  • Name and address of employment site in question
  • Reason for planned termination/layoffs
  • Attribution of the termination or layoffs to economic or non-economic factors
  • Availability of dislocated worker assistance and potential training opportunities

Notices must be provided directly to both the:

  1. Affected workers
  2. Local government officials

Under the “Warn Act California,” notices should be provided in a language understandable to employees if a significant share does not speak English.

What Are Employee Rights Under the WARN Act?

If employees do not receive adequate advance notice under the “WARN Act California,” they have certain rights:

Right to a 60-day Notice Period: Employees impacted by mass layoffs or plant closings have a right under the “Warn Act California” to receive written notice 60 days in advance. If they do not, they can take legal action to recover back pay and related benefits for each day short of the 60 days that employers provided insufficient warning.

For example, if a company only provided workers with 30 days’ notice, employees would be entitled to 30 days of back pay.

Right to File a Lawsuit: Workers also can take civil action and sue the employer for failure to serve appropriate notice under the “WARN Act California.” Workers individually or as a class can file litigation to recover owed back pay, lost benefits, attorney fees, and other costs incurred.

Employees have up to 3 years to take legal action against the employer from the date on which the notice violation occurred. Damages owed to employees are based on their normal daily compensation.

Right to Enlist Government Help: If employers violate notification rules under the “Warn Act California,” employee rights are protected by the California Labor Commissioner’s Office and the Employment Development Department (EDD). These state offices can initiate investigations, take legal action against non-compliant employers, and recover wages owed to impacted employees.

Workers have multiple avenues to report suspected violations. You can file complaints directly with state labor offices or consult employee rights attorneys regarding suspected “WARN Act California violations.”

What Are Employer Obligations and Exceptions Under the Act?

Employers covered by the “WARN Act California” must provide written notices that offer details on:

  • Permanency of planned terminations/temporary layoffs
  • Which facilities will close down/relocate
  • Date when first terminations will start
  • Number of affected employees per job classification
  • Assurances that mass layoffs were not averted by union concessions

However, exceptions exist when providing 60-day advanced notice poses business hardships for employers.

Unforeseeable Circumstances: Employers may order mass layoffs or plant closings with less than 60 days’ notice if circumstances were unforeseen at the time notifications would have been required. This includes unexpected business losses precluding companies from giving notice.

Natural Disasters: If mass terminations result from major natural disasters such as earthquakes or wildfires, standard notification windows can be waived.

Faltering Companies: Employers on the brink of shutting down permanently due to financial circumstances can provide shorter notification periods if adhering to the full 60-day notice window can be demonstrated to worsen business conditions and accelerate job losses overall.

Sale of a Business Site: A massive reduction in the workforce due to the sale of all or part of a business may also qualify employers for exemptions from the usual 60-day notification requirements.

While the “Warn Act California” entitles workers to extended notices in most collective termination scenarios, nuances apply given the unique situations of businesses. Consult qualified legal counsel to ensure the proper exceptions are utilized if considering mass layoffs.

What Are the Legal Implications for Non-Compliant Employers?

If properly written notifications are not given at least 60 days in advance of major layoffs or location closings under the “Warn Act California”, harsh penalties apply to non-compliant employers.

Specifically, employers can face:

  • Employee lawsuits to recover back pay, lost benefits, legal fees, and other expenses
  • Potential fines of up to $500 per employee per violation
  • Further lawsuits by local government entities (cities, counties) to punish violations via fines and enjoin companies from further non-compliance
  • Reputational damage and public scrutiny for failure to adhere to key worker protection laws. This can have lasting impacts on consumer opinions and purchasing decisions as well

For illustration, in 2002, Oracle’s PeopleSoft division was sued by former employees for violating the “WARN Act California” by conducting an extended string of undisclosed layoffs affecting thousands. After 7 years of litigation, the company settled by establishing a $10 million fund to pay impacted workers.

By failing to provide required notices under the “Warn Act California,” employers open themselves to protracted legal battles, major settlement payouts, and public image damage. Strict observance of notification rules can help mitigate these sample risks.

How To Interpret and Act Upon WARN Notices

If you receive an advance written notice under the “WARN Act California” relaying news of impending termination or temporary layoffs, key next steps include:

Carefully Reviewing Notice Details: Make certain you understand the exact nature, timing, and scope of the planned workforce changes based on the information furnished in the written notice.

Seeking Outside Input if Needed: Consult HR personnel at your firm or qualified legal counsel to clarify any confusing aspects of the plans summarized in the notice documents.

How To Interpret and Act Upon WARN Notices

Assessing Financial Options: With 2 months lead time, begin analyzing your budget, savings buffers, household expenses, and alternative income options to withstand losing your current job and paycheck temporarily or permanently.

Exploring Public Assistance: Research availability of workforce training assistance, job placement services, unemployment benefits, healthcare subsidies, and other transitional programs facilitated via state labor agencies.

Preparing Clinical Updates: Ensure medical records, drug test results, and performance reviews are all up to date for job application requirements in the future.

Resuming Networking: Refresh professional connections and resume circulation through online platforms like LinkedIn in case finding new, comparable job openings becomes urgent.

While “WARN Act notices” relay unsettling news about termination, proper notifications still afford employees crucial lead time. Carefully parse notice specifics and urgently research alternative income sources, skills training options, open positions in your field, and public transition assistance to proactively prepare for job disruption.

Frequently Asked Questions About the WARN Act in California

What is the required notification period under the California WARN Act?

The “WARN Act California” mandates covered employers provide written notice of mass layoffs or plant shutdowns at least 60 calendar days in advance. This 60-day notice window is longer than the federal WARN Act requirement.

Which employers does the California WARN Act apply to?

Any private, for-profit company in California with 75 or more full-time employees (excluding part-time workers) must comply with notice rules under the “Warn Act California.”

What happens if my employer violates the WARN Act requirements?

If your employer conducts mass layoffs without giving proper 60-day advance written notice, employees can take legal action to recoup back pay for each day below the 60-day threshold they were warned. Employees also can sue for related expenses like lost benefits and attorney fees.

What if my company files for bankruptcy? Does that protect them from CA WARN Act obligations?

No, declaring bankruptcy does not release employers from being penalized for failing to provide adequate layoff notices under the “WARN Act California.” Worker notification requirements still fully apply.

What penalties do employers face for not complying with the WARN Act?

Offending employers can face employee lawsuits, fines of up to $500 per worker per violation, and legal action by city/county governments for “WARN Act California” notice failures. This can tally up to major financial consequences.

What exceptions exist to the 60-day notice mandate?

If mass layoffs result from natural disasters, unexpected business losses, sales of worksites, or severe employer financial duress, shortened notification windows may comply with the “Warn Act California.” However, strict burdens of proof apply to these exemption claims.


As the above outline conveys, both California employees and employers have a vested interest in thoroughly grasping rights and duties under the “WARN Act California.” For workers, proper notices can prove vital in navigating unexpected job losses. For businesses, adhering to notification requirements prevents steep litigation expenses down the road.

With California companies continuing to reinvent operations in response to emerging technologies, globalization pressures, pandemics, and other upheavals, large-scale layoffs remain a reality. Having a clear handle on expectations and protocols under the “Warn Act California” is essential for human risk management.

Because the application of this law varies across unique business circumstances, routinely consulting employment attorneys and HR specialists is key as well. If you have concerns about potential notice violations as an employee or struggle to meet employer standards under the Act, promptly seek answers from professionals.

Legal Geekz
Legal Geekz
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