WARN act doesn't apply to government offices

How did Josephine County get around the federal WARN act (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification), which calls for 90 days notice of job elimination for over 60 employees. Since they only gave 21 days of notice to the Sheriff's Department employees, are state and government employees exempt from the law?

— Sharon M., Central Point

In the chaos that followed the failure of Josephine County's public safety levy, you can rest assured that the layoffs were done by the book. Turns out the WARN act doesn't apply to the Josephine County Sheriff's Office for a couple of reasons.

First, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the WARN act, which actually requires 60 days notice to covered employees, has a clause that exempts an employer in unforeseen business circumstances.

But the economic crisis aside, there's another reason.

"For public entities, it's not even an issue," Josephine County Undersheriff Don Fasching said.

A United States Department of Labor fact sheet on advance notice of closings and layoffs states: "Regular Federal, State, and local government entities which provide public services are not covered (by WARN)."

"We pretty much moved at the direction of HR," Fasching said, adding that most employees were given the standard 14 or 21 days of official notice.

"The employees weren't just blindsided," he said. "They all knew it was coming. There were no surprises."

He added that the layoffs of 68 percent of the department were primarily a "first in, last out" system, with exceptions in areas such as the jail, where a minimum number of female employees were needed.

"Generally it was seniority-based," he said. "We tried to keep as many working as possible up to the last minute — which we did," he said.

Unfortunately, one of those working until the end is Fasching himself. He is scheduled to be laid off at the end of June.

"I've never experienced anything like this before," he said. "I just hope the citizens of Josephine County see the value of law enforcement and will help support it."

There is some hope: On Wednesday a congressional committee OK'd a bill that would restore federal timber payments for one year. That could give the county some leeway to reduce layoffs, although nothing is certain yet.

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