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Company requirements in layoff scenarios

On Behalf of | Apr 3, 2024 | Employment Law -- Employee |

Companies sometimes determine that they can’t continue to support their current workforce. When this occurs, they may realize that they need to lay off workers. This often comes as a shock to the workers and can lead to significant challenges for them.

Companies that need to engage in layoffs must respect certain notification requirements. These requirements are meant to protect workers who count on their income.

Notice requirements and timing

While Florida doesn’t have its own Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, it adheres to the federal standard that emphasizes the importance of advance notice. This is to give employees sufficient time to prepare for the impact of job loss and to seek new employment opportunities.

The federal WARN Act requires employers with 100 or more employees to provide at least 60 days’ notice before a plant closing or mass layoff. This notice must be given to affected workers or their representatives, the State Dislocated Worker Unit and the appropriate local government.

Rights and severance pay

When it comes to layoffs, Florida law doesn’t mandate severance pay unless there is an agreement or policy that entitles the employee to such benefits. This means the provision of severance pay is at the employer’s discretion or as negotiated in employment contracts or company policies. For employees covered under such agreements, severance pay can provide crucial financial support during their period of unemployment.

However, many employers will offer affected employees severance in exchange for the employee signing a Separation Agreement. That Separation Agreement will usually include a full general release of any and all claims the employee may have. Under a federal law known as the Older Workers Benefits Protection Act (OWBPA), where a separation agreement is offered, it must contain certain disclosures, including informing employees (1) that they have 45 days to review the agreement; (2) that they may revoke acceptance of the agreement within 7 days of signing; (3) that they should consult with an attorney to review the agreement; (4) of positions within the impacted decisional unit that were and were not eliminated, with the age of each listed employee; and (5) of the criteria used by the company to determine who would be laid off.

It is highly recommended that employees offered a Separation Agreement consult with a knowledgeable and experienced employment attorney, who can explain the legal terms of the agreement, and evaluate if the employee does have claims that may justify negotiating for a greater severance or, alternatively, not signing the agreement and proceeding on those claims.

Employees laid off in Florida are entitled to apply for unemployment benefits, which offers a temporary financial cushion. The eligibility for and amount of unemployment benefits are determined based on the employee’s earnings and tenure, as well as other factors.

Legal protections and considerations

Employees in Florida are protected under federal laws against discriminatory layoffs. This means that layoff decisions can’t be based on age, race, gender, religion, national origin or disability. Employers must ensure their layoff process complies with all applicable anti-discrimination laws to avoid legal repercussions.

When layoffs don’t comply with state and federal laws, employees may take legal action. Discussing a layoff situation with a legal representative who can offer guidance and assistance is beneficial so employees can learn their rights and get a case, if appropriate, moving forward.