Bill Would Give Employees Time and Resources to Plan for Job Loss
TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Stephen M. Sweeney and Joseph V. Doria, Jr., which would require certain larger companies to give pre-notification of certain plant closings and mass layoffs received final legislative approval today in the Senate by a vote of 24 to 12.
“When an employer resorts to cost-saving measures like plant closings and mass layoffs, they’re saying the bottom line is more important than the livelihood of their workers,” said Senator Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem, the Chair of the Senate Labor Committee. “Unfortunately, though, layoffs are part of the reality of the business world. However, with his bill, we’re ensuring that New Jersey’s employers provide fair warning, rather than blindsiding their employees, many of whom may not be ready to change course in their careers at the drop of a hat.”
“A factory or plant closing down leaves a fiscal hole in the municipality where it’s located, and leaves loyal employee scrambling to support their families,” said Senator Doria, D-Hudson. “Given a little advanced warning, though, everyone can make plans to mitigate the financial mess of mass layoffs and plant closings. Through this bill, we’re giving employees and local officials the notice they need to prepare for downsizing.”
The bill, S-472, would require any company with more than 200 employees to provide 180 days notice of a plant closing or a mass layoff of more than 50 employees to the employees and the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development. If the employer has between 49 and 199 employees, they must give 90 days notice of any potential action. If the pre-notification is not provided, the company would have to provide one week severance pay for each year worked for every employee terminated, and if the company is in an Urban Enterprise Zone, three weeks severance pay for every year worked by the employees.
The notification requirements under the bill do not apply to government employees, seasonal employees, layoffs where the employer has made a commitment to rehire within six months or found alternative employment within 50 miles from the previous job, or any loss of employment beyond the realm of control of the employers, such as a fire, natural disaster, bankruptcy or court order.
“This bill is not aimed at the conscientious employers who try to do right by their workers,” said Senator Doria. “We recognize that in some cases, employers can’t predict something catastrophic like a fire or natural disaster, and can’t possibly let employees know that their jobs are in jeopardy. But for those employers who are looking to save a few bucks and spring a layoff on their employees within a week’s notice, they should provide fair compensation to the terminated employees.”
The bill would also establish a rapid response team in the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to provide counseling and other job-related services to workers and would require employers to provide access to the response team for their employees.
“We’re bringing the resources of the Department of Labor to help workers who find themselves displaced by layoffs or plant closings,” said Senator Sweeney. “Often, when an employee is laid off, they really don’t have anywhere to turn to get back on their feet. However, the Department has the tools at their disposal to help employees find gainful employment elsewhere.”
Under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act of 1988, employers must provide at least 60 days of advance warning of any plant closings or mass layoffs. However, Senator Doria noted that the WARN Act only applies to employers with more than 100 employees and does not cover workers who have been on the job for less than six months, as well as providing broad exceptions for faltering companies and unforeseeable business circumstances.
“The WARN Act does not provide any protections to workers at mid-sized companies, and has a number of loopholes that employers can drive a truck through,” said Senator Doria. “This bill would go further than WARN, and put New Jersey in the forefront of giving advance warning to employees who are about to lose their jobs to layoffs and plant closings.”
The bill now heads to the Governor’s desk where his signature would make it State law.