September 29, 2020

Volume X, Number 273

September 29, 2020

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September 28, 2020

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Dealing With The Decline In Wyoming Jobs

Recent jobs numbers reflect what many Wyoming employers already know – large job losses have hit the state, pushing down wages and possible tax revenues. Our look at the practical implications of this job environment should help you expect the best while preparing for the worst. 

First Quarter Jobs Numbers 

The numbers are rather grim. According to a November report from the Research & Planning section of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services (DWS), 9,367 jobs were lost in Wyoming from first quarter 2015 to first quarter 2016. The average monthly employment numbers decreased from 277,691 in the first quarter of 2015 to 268,324 in the same quarter of 2016, reflecting a 3.4% drop statewide.

The largest job losses occurred in the mining sector, which includes oil and gas extraction jobs, which saw a 23% loss of jobs from the first quarter 2015 to 2016. The next highest loss was in transportation and warehousing with a 9.4% decrease, followed by company management which experienced an 8% decrease.

The decline in the total unemployment insurance (UI) covered payroll for the same period was $243.5 million, or a 7.6% drop. Average weekly wages for private sector jobs was down from $890 to $834, a drop of 6.3% which means workers received an average of $56 less in their paychecks each week.

Second Quarter Numbers Continue To Fall

In its preliminary data for the second quarter (April through June), Wyoming employment continued to decline from 2015 to 2016 by approximately 10,500 jobs, or 3.7%. Approximately 5,500 of those job losses were in the mining/oil and gas sector, with about 1,700 jobs lost in construction, and another 1,100 job losses in transportation and warehousing.

Not All Bad News

In its county-by-county breakdown, the DWS reported that employment rose in seven Wyoming counties and total payroll increased in eight counties for the first quarter comparison. Teton County saw a 3.7% increase in jobs while employment in Lincoln County grew by 3.4%. Other counties that experienced a modest increase in jobs year over year were Albany, Crook, Niobrara, Sheridan, and Weston.

Practical Effects Of Declining Job Numbers 

Job statistics can provide an interesting and telling view of the overall health of the state’s economy. But more than that, the numbers suggest that many Wyoming employers have faced, or soon may face, difficult decisions about whether to layoff or terminate workers. For organizations experiencing a downturn, the practical options may include the following:

  • Reorganizing or combining jobs – during slow times, some workers may have extra capacity so it may be possible to reassign certain job duties or combine jobs; be sure to update job descriptions for affected positions.

  • Reducing wages – no one likes a pay cut, but it may be better than losing a job completely; if you still need your workers but revenue doesn’t support current pay levels, consider whether a reduction in pay, even if only temporary, is an option.

  • Reduction in hours – if you reduce the hours of multiple (or all) employees during a downturn, you may be able to avoid any layoffs or terminations; consider the effect of reducing hours on health insurance and other benefit coverage so you can adjust accordingly.

  • Voluntary reductions or layoffs – consider whether to ask for volunteers who may be willing to reduce their hours or take a pre-determined layoff (e.g., three months) which may avoid the need to impose involuntary reductions or terminations.

  • Layoffs – determine whether you will maintain a recall list for when job openings occur and if so, how that list will be prioritized (e.g., company seniority, position seniority, left to company discretion, etc.), how long laid off employees are eligible to stay on the list, what the procedure is for recall, etc.

  • Terminations – if you decide to let workers go, decide in advance whether you will offer any severance or other benefits; benefits such as severance pay are not required unless you have a policy or practice that requires it, but even a modest amount can help ease the blow for the departing worker and maintain a more positive work environment for those who remain.

Of course, if your workers are covered by a collective bargaining agreement, your options may be limited by the contract. In addition, be careful that your decisions are made based on legitimate business reasons and not on a discriminatory basis, such as age, race, or gender. If you need to implement a large layoff or plant closing, you may have notification obligations under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act. And many changes in employee-status or hours will trigger COBRA notifications so be prepared for that as well.

In short, tough economic times are stressful for management, human resources, and workers alike. Consider all of your options so that you may make a well-reasoned, compliant, and business-focused decision.

Copyright Holland & Hart LLP 1995-2020.National Law Review, Volume VII, Number 12


About this Author

Brad Cave, Employment litigation, discrimination, Holland Hart Law FIrm

Mr. Cave represents businesses, non-profit organizations, and public employers in litigation matters involving discrimination, harassment, retaliation, medical leave, wage and hour disputes, defamation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, civil rights claims, and employment-related torts. Mr. Cave has substantial experience in advising employers and defending claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act for employers in mining and healthcare, among others.