Back in late February and early March corporations in many industries were blindsided by the Coronavirus pandemic and its impact on their bottom line. Several companies elected to lay people off in an attempt to combat significant losses. AT&T has been in the news a lot this year for their lofty goal of cutting costs by $10 billion. They attempted to reduce costs by both cutting jobs and slashing benefits. Most recently AT&T announced they would be cutting retiree healthcare benefits for those who retire after 2022.
These employee reduction methods certainly beg the question, why has AT&T not issued a Warn Notice to its employees? Could the lack of a Warn Notice lead some employees to seek legal recourse?
The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act requires employers to provide 60 days notice in advance of a business closure or mass layoff. Businesses do have the ability to claim “unforeseeable business circumstances” in instances where they do not offer a Warn Notice. Obviously a global pandemic would fall under the category of unforeseeable circumstances, the only question is how long can business make that claim? Obviously in March AT&T had unforeseen circumstances, but 8 months into a pandemic it becomes harder to claim that as a defense.
Some AT&T employees expressed confusion over the lack of Warn Notice on thelayoff.com blog site. One employee in particular stated, “…layoffs yesterday mention 60 days in accordance with the WARN [Act]. How is AT&T planning on getting around this law?”
When businesses claim unforeseen circumstances they are still obligated to provide their employees with as much notice as possible. Obviously, what constitutes “as much notice as possible” will vary case by case. There have not been an overwhelming amount of Warn Act lawsuits since the pandemic began, it is becoming clear that the longer this pandemic goes on the less protected companies become.
Puerta, Andres F. “As Weather Cools Down, WARN Act Lawsuits Likely to Heat Up – HR Daily Advisor.” HR Daily Advisor, 10 Nov. 2020, https://hrdailyadvisor.blr.com/2020/11/10/as-weather-cools-down-warn-act-lawsuits-likely-to-heat-up/.
Jones, Benji. “Leaked Documents Reveal Exxon Changed Its Employee Ranking System amid the Coronavirus Pandemic, Putting More Workers at Risk of Getting Cut.” Business Insider, 24 July 2020.
Jones, Benji. “Exxon Made Managers Dub Some Employees Poor Performers to Cut Staff – Business Insider.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 30 July 2020, https://www.businessinsider.com/exxon-managers-dub-some-employees-poor-performers-cut-staff-2020-7