Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say

Words are important. They have specific meanings. In dealing with employees, words are especially important.

The right word must be used so there is a clear understanding between the employer and employee as to what is being communicated. In addition, when there is person-to-person communication or when employment history is researched, the precise language/actions set forth in any document is vitally important for understanding the resolution of such things as re-hire decisions, unemployment compensation claims, grievances, disciplinary actions, hearings, arbitrations, and lawsuits.

The following is a brief summary of common action words found in a personnel file. Make sure you are using the right word for the action being taken.

Promoted – Means an upward job movement, which includes more responsibilities, greater authority or more pay, or all of the above.

Transferred – Describes an employer’s action of moving an employee from one job to another, presumably within the same level or grade.

Demoted – Means a downward job movement, with less responsibility, less authority or reduced pay, or all of the above. This is normally imposed as a punishment or because the employee had been moved or promoted beyond his or her capabilities. Not recommended unless the employee is understanding, cooperative, and will continue to perform satisfactorily in the position.

Probation – Means a specific period of time (one week or more) during which the employee is given one last chance to demonstrate that he or she can perform satisfactorily. A failure during this period likely results in immediate termination; success during this period results in the employee being restored to his or her usual and customary status. (Not to be confused with the initial period of employment — probationary period.)

Suspension – Refers to an act of discipline, which is a step towards termination if misconduct continues. It is normally imposed without pay and usually not for more than five working days unless the misconduct warranting the suspension is severe or extraordinary, but not such where termination would be appropriate.

Separation from Employment – This is a neutral phrase that simply means the employment relationship has ended. This phrase covers all causes for end of employment except layoff.

Termination – This is a neutral term meaning the employment relationship has ended. This term covers all causes for end of employment except layoff.

Voluntary Quit – Means exactly what it says; the employee initiated his or her termination by orally advising that he or she was quitting, handing in a written resignation, etc. There is no such thing as an “involuntary quit”.

Job Abandonment – Means exactly what is says; the employee initiated his or her termination by failing to show up for work, by calling or writing in too late, or by directing his or her employer to mail or have ready his or her final paycheck.

Layoff – Means the employee has been told by his or her employers not to return to work until such time as he or she is recalled. This can be for a fixed or unknown period of time. This should only be used if the employer has a reasonable expectation of returning the employee to work in the foreseeable future. Do not use it if the employee is, in fact, fired.

Fired or Discharged – Refers to an employers’ unilateral action of removing an employee from the payroll.

Constructive Discharge – Refers to an employer’s willful effort to make an employee’s job so unbearable that the employee quits rather than tolerate the job further.

It is important to remember that just because you use one word to describe an action taken related to employment doesn’t mean the action is not something else. For example, advising an employee that they are laid-off when you are, in fact, terminating him or her (i.e. you have no intention of returning him or her to work) does not transform the discharge into a layoff.

We understand that dealing with these issues can be difficult and uncomfortable. The Nevada Association of Employers is here to ease some of that discomfort. Members should not hesitate to contact us for questions and guidance related to discipline and discharge. Our team of HR professionals is here to assist you.