Like others who worked at two Merrill, Wis., locations of Semco Windows and Doors, 62-year-old Patrick Woeller learned on December 30 that he would no longer be an employee of the company in the year ahead. Semco announced the closure of plants via a letter filed the day before it happened. Now Woeller is alleging that by doing so the company violated aspects of the 30-year-old U.S. Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) and Wisconsin’s Business Closing and Mass Layoff Law.

Both WARN and WBCML require employers to provide 60 days’ notice ahead of covered plant closings and covered mass layoffs, with WBCML law covering companies with at least 50 full-time employees and WARN applying to companies with at least 100 full-time employees, not including employees who have worked fewer than six of the preceding 12 months.

Triggering factors for both are similar, with the threshold for WBCML law lower than that of WARN. WBCML law applies in instances where the company’s closing affects 25 or more employees, or reduces the workforce by 25 percent or 25 employees (whichever is greater), or at least 500 employees. WARN breaks down its triggers into plant closings and mass layoffs, with the former being defined as a situation wherein an employment site (or one or more facilities or operating units within an employment site) will be shut down, resulting in loss of employment for 50 or more employees during any 30-day period. Under WARN, a mass lay off does not require a plant closing, but does set the number of affected employees at 500 or more, or for 50-499 employees if they make up at least 33% of the active workforce.

Semco’s closure left around 140 individuals without jobs.

While Semco did follow the WARN requirement for providing notice of the plant closures to either affected workers or their representatives (e.g., a labor union); to the state dislocated worker unit; and to the appropriate unit of local government, the one-day notice provided is far less than the required 60 days, and left Semco employees in the lurch. For this reason, local media has reported that Woeller, backed by the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters union, filed a complaint with the state Department of Workforce Development last month, seeking 60 days’ pay and benefits, along with compensation for accrued and unused vacation time.

A copy of the Employment and Training Administration’s guidelines for WARN shows there are exceptions to requirements for 60-days’ notice, including a loophole for, “When, before a plant closing, a company is actively seeking capital or business and reasonably in good faith believes that advance notice would preclude its ability to obtain such capital or business, and this new capital or business would allow the employer to avoid or postpone a shutdown for a reasonable period.”

Whether or not those measures apply to Semco’s circumstances is unclear at this time. An investigation into the case should be complete within six months of the day the complaint was filed.

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