On Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Executive Order N-31-20, greatly reducing the number of Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act requirements needed for mass layoffs and firings.
While the specifics of the order still require California employer’s to give ample notice prior to such actions, it no longer carries the standard 60 days in advance period. Under the temporary WARN Act measures, mass layoffs and firings can be given on a notice of only a day if wanted.
Gov. Newsom enacted the Executive Order in direct response to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. As many employers need to reduce staff or shut down for the duration of the pandemic due to serving large numbers of people, such as movie theaters, restaurants, and factories, the order will allow employers to do it almost immediately as opposed to winding things down over two months, which would spread the disease even more in the meantime.
While the WARN Act measures would only be temporary, wording in Newsom’s order would have the reduced notice period apply until the state of emergency ends in California.
Gov. Newsom gave no comment on his order limiting the WARN Act, as opposed to his statements on other Executive Orders he passed this week. However, many law experts have noted that while what he signed was legal, there may be certain limitations to the order.
“Right now it pretty much just says ’employers can fire many people at once as long as it’s done in the interest of public health’,” noted employment lawyer Lyle Babbage. “It does not allow them to do it ‘willy-nilly’ because all the other parts of the WARN Act still apply.”
“For small businesses and companies that only have a handful of employees there still needs to be the legal amount of time. The Warn Act doesn’t apply to them, but it still requires a lot more hoops to go through. For large companies though, it’s now much easier and much quicker to let a lot of people go.”
“This can probably be abused. If the company in question deals with at least some outside people on a daily basis, then the coronavirus is a good excuse. If it’s a few people and they don’t deal with anyone, it actually becomes a little harder now.”
Other experts agreed.
“The Executive Order had to have been looked over by a ton of lawyers,” added paralegal Marisol Fuentes. “It cuts right in and only makes that 60-day provision go away so places can easily be shutdown because of the pandemic.“
“Small businesses remain protected too.”
“This is an extraordinary time, and Gov. Newsom would not have taken extraordinary measures against worker rights unless he had too. And making mass terminations be allowed almost instantly is exactly that. Any other time any Governor would have done this and they would have been crucified by every labor union in the state. But now, at least for a while, it’s the norm.”
Executive Order N-31-20 went into effect immediately after being signed on Tuesday, with the order being confirmed on Wednesday.
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