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WARN Act was violated regularly during COVID-19 pandemic layoffs, audit finds

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  • Staff Report 

A recent audit conducted by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office has revealed that the state Department of Labor was overwhelmed during the COVID-19 pandemic and neglected to uphold provisions of the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act.

The Act requires larger companies to give notice of impending layoffs, and prompts the labor department to deploy “rapid response” teams to aid in reemployment efforts.


However, during the pandemic, many labor department personnel were redeployed to deal with a surge in unemployment claims, leading to a lapse in WARN Act enforcement.

The audit, which analyzed WARN Act activity between January 2019 and April 2022, also investigated whether employers were complying with the Act’s 90-day layoff notice requirement.


Upon reviewing a sample of 50 notices impacting 19,132 employees, it was discovered that half did not comply with the 90-day notice period, and 20 others requested an exemption due to the pandemic.

During the pandemic, WARN notices affected 145,471 individuals in the food, entertainment, and accommodation sectors, and another 32,209 in retail, warehousing, and transportation—figures only representing those employed by WARN-regulated companies, and not those from smaller businesses also making layoffs.