By Christopher Billups (Summer Intern) and Rich Meisner
On June 24, 2015, a law firm in Mountainside, New Jersey (Zucker, Goldberg & Ackerman LLC) announced that it will official close its doors on August 24, 2015, which will put approximately 300 employees out of work. The law firm filed a WARN notice with the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development. This is the latest in a series of mass layoffs in New Jersey, which have included pharmaceutical companies Zoetis and GlaxoSmithKline.
The federal WARN Act (“Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act”), which went into effect in 1989, requires most employers with 100 or more employees to provide 60 calendar-day advance notification of mass layoffs. Hourly wage workers and salaried workers, managers and supervisors, must all be given notice. The purpose of the WARN Act is to provide employees notice of the anticipated job loss and the opportunity to seek employment elsewhere.
New Jersey’s version of the WARN Act (also known as “Millville Dallas Airmotive Plant Job Loss Notification Act” and often referred to as “mini-WARN”) contain similar requirements as the federal WARN Act. Adopted in 1997, the NJ WARN Act covers businesses that have been in operations for more than 3 years and employ 100 or more full-time employees. However, it does not cover temporary construction sites.
Employers should know that violations of New Jersey’s WARN Act imposes a more severe penalty than its federal counterpart: whereas violations of the federal WARN Act requires backpay to employees for up to 60 days, New Jersey employers who fail to issue the required 60 days’ notice – even by a single day – will be required to pay each aggrieved full time employees one week of wages for each full year of employment worked. This is true even if the employer is filing for bankruptcy. There is no good faith defense to liability or penalty. Notice is not, however, required if termination of operations is necessary because of a fire, flood, natural disaster, national emergency, or act of war.
One of the most important things that employers and employees need to know is that the law does not contain a statute of limitations for violations of the NJ WARN Act. Thus, employees who were part of a mass layoff – even if it occurred years ago – may still have a private right of action to seek damages.