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If layoff decision affects only a few, no notice necessary

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) requires employers to notify workers of a mass layoff if the affected site has at least 50 employees. But the U.S. Labor Department regulations interpreting WARN specify that employees in the field belong to the office they report to.

What happens, then, when a regional office employs just a handful of workers? Must an employer with at least 50 employees at headquarters warn the few employees at the regional office if that office will be hit with mass layoffs?

In most cases, the answer is no.

Recent case: Ronalda Meson managed a three-person regional office for her Tampa, FL-based employer. The company had more than 50 employees in Florida, and Meson got her assignments from that office. When the company shut down her regional office because it sold the assets to another company, Meson sued, alleging she hadn’t received a WARN notice.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed her case. Unlike a traveling employee who reports to headquarters and no place else, she was a branch manager tied to the regional office, the court concluded. Therefore, no notice was due. The court pointed out the law was meant to reduce the impact of mass layoffs that may have wide economic repercussions for the region. Terminating three people was unlikely to have such an impact. (Meson v. GATX, et al., No. 06-1942, 4th Cir., 2007)

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