Yesterday, I wrote about how President Obama’s Department of Labor issued guidelines for dealing with the job losses from sequestration. The guidelines told employers not to provide workers with 60 days minimum notice of pending layoffs, as required by federal law. We don’t know what prompted the DOL’s unusual directive, but Obama most likely wants to avoid a scenario in which mass layoff notices are sent out just days before the presidential election.
It’s interesting that the Obama administration is suddenly so blase when it comes to enforcing employee protection laws, particularly because he was a champion of the 60-day minimum notice law — also known as the WARN Act — back in 2007.
“For too long, employers have failed to notify workers that they’re about to lose their jobs due to mass layoffs or plant closings even though notice is required by the WARN Act,” then-Sen. Obama said in a July 17, 2007 press release. “The least employers can do when they’re anticipating layoffs is to let workers know they’re going to be out of a job and a paycheck with enough time to plan for their future.”
During his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama also railed against loopholes that allowed employers to avoid complying with the law — which is basically what his DOL seems to be advising now.
“Now, I believe we must act at the federal level to close the loophole that allows employers to disregard the WARN Act without penalty,” he said in statement to the Toledo Blade.
As senator, Obama even cosponsored the 2007 FOREWARN Act, which would have extended the minimum notice to 90 days and increased both the penalties for violating the law and the government’s ability to enforce it.
Oddly enough, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown reintroduced the FOREWARN Act less than two months ago. Will Obama — who advocated for it during his last presidential campaign — express his support for it again? And will he tell his DOL to stop encouraging employers to dodge the WARN Act, which he insisted was so important when he was serving in the Senate?
Nobody wants employers and workers to worry about layoffs that may never happen. But the way to ensure that warning notices don’t go out unnecessarily is by dealing with sequestration before November and before the 60-day minimum window — not by telling employers to ignore the WARN Act and assume sequestration will be taken care of after the election.