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WARN Act and Oil Field Rightsizing: Court Finds Layoff Does Not Require Notice

In a recent case involving the layoff of employees assigned to land drilling rigs, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas limited the ability of plaintiffs to claim that multiple rigs collectively form a “single site of employment” under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN Act).

Is an Offshore Rig a Single Site of Employment Under WARN?

A federal judge in the Eastern District of Louisiana recently issued an important ruling for oil field employers conducting layoffs. In Voisin v. Axxis Drilling, Inc. (October 21, 2015), the court held that for the purposes of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1988 (WARN Act), each offshore rig is a single “site of employment.” Plaintiffs’ lawyers have filed multiple class actions alleging that a dispatch or administrative office from which work is assigned is a single site of employment for purposes of triggering the WARN Act. Judge Feldman’s ruling blocks that theory.

Firing replacement workers to allow striking employees to return is not a "mass layoff" under WARN Act.

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act requires a 60-day notice to employees before a “mass layoff” can take place. A mass layoff is a reduction in force which is not the result of a plant closure, but which results in an employment loss of at least 50 full-time employees at a single site. While the WARN Act does not specifically define “workforce reduction,” federal courts have determined that an employee is part of such reduction when that employee is not replaced after layoff or discharge. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals relied on that interpretation of the term “workforce reduction” when it determined that 111 replacement workers - who ultimately were fired to allow a company’s original employees to return from strike - were not entitled to a 60-day mass layoff notice prior to their firings.

Employees who stop coming to work because business is closing are entitled to 60-day notice under the WARN Act.

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act states that an employer cannot order a plant closing or mass layoff that will affect 50 or more employees without a 60-day written notice to each affected employee. An “affected employee” is someone who is expected to experience an employment loss as a result of the closure or layoff. For purposes of the WARN Act, an employment loss is “an employment termination, other than a discharge for cause, voluntary departure, or retirement. . . .” The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a group of employees who stopped reporting to work after the owner of the automobile franchise for whom they worked informed them that he would be “closing its doors” in two weeks did not fall within the “voluntary departure” exception to the WARN Act and, therefore, were not provided with the requisite 60-day notice of business closure.
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