Pandemic Is Not A Natural Disaster Under the WARN Act

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals became the first appellate court to rule on the issue of whether COVID-19 qualifies as a natural disaster in regards to the WARN Act. Their answer was no. A group of former oil workers sued their employer for violations of the WARN Act after they were laid off suddenly in March 2020. The employer claimed the WARN Act’s natural-disaster exception applied. In its opinion, the Fifth Circuit explained that Congress was well aware of pandemics and other diseases when they crafted the natural disaster exception in 1988. That exception provided three examples considered natural disasters: floods, earthquakes, and droughts. While other federal courts may find differently in similar cases, employers should carefully consider whether the natural disaster exception is their best defense, especially in the Fifth Circuit.