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CA Appellate Court Interprets “Plant Closing” Statute,

Creates New Headache for Seasonal Employers

Bryan Little, Farm Employers Labor Service

April 3, 2018

A California appellate court has ruled that the California version of the Worker Readjustment and Retraining Notification Act (Cal/WARN) applies much more broadly than its federal counterpart, and much more broadly than previously understood.

In Int’l. Brotherhood of Boilermakers v. NASSCO Holdings Inc., the court ruled that under California WARN, a covered employer must provide 60 days’ notice to affected employees before ordering a “mass layoff,” even if the layoff is not permanent and is for less than six months.

In contrast, the court noted that under the federal WARN Act, “the notification duty is triggered only when the layoff is for more than six months.” Given this difference, the court concluded, “there is no reasonable basis to interpret [Cal/WARN] to mean a four-or five-week layoff does not constitute a ‘separation from position,’ but a six- or seven-month layoff does.” As a result, California WARN covers very short layoffs that federal WARN does not.

NASSCO Holdings pointed out to the court that it’s broad reading of Cal/WARN could apply the statute to “long holiday weekends” or “unforeseen events” (federal WARN specifically exempts “unforeseeable business circumstances”). The court responded, “These arguments do not provide grounds for refusing to enforce the California WARN Act as it is written. … California employers, not California employees, should bear the risk of surprise resulting from an unexpected layoff.”

California agricultural employers, however, should be aware that Cal/WARN does not apply to employees who were hired with the understanding that their employment was seasonal and temporary. Documenting this understanding clearly in writing can afford an agricultural employer important protection. A written acknowledgment (see FELS' acknowledgement form here), signed by each seasonal employee in a language understood by the employee and separate from any provision in an employee handbook that also specifies that employment in certain positions is seasonal and temporary, should protect an employer ending employment of seasonal agricultural employees from Cal/WARN’s notification requirement and potential liability for failing to notify. The significance of NASSCO Holdings is that even the shortest layoff triggers Cal/WARN’s notification requirement for employees who were not hired with the understanding that their employment was seasonal and temporary.

Please contact FELS for more information at 800-753-9073 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..