fired vs. laid off, and the difference between a hiring manager and HR

I see these words confused all the time, so let’s straighten out some vocabulary issues.

1. Fired vs. laid off vs. terminated

Fired: If someone is fired, they are being let go because of their performance or behavior.

Laid off: If someone is laid off, their position is being eliminated — the company was restructuring or having financial problems and eliminated the job. (In other words, it’s about the job itself, not the person. At least officially.)  So don’t go around telling people that you were fired if you were actually laid off.

Terminated: Could be either. But don’t say it — it sounds ridiculous.

2. Recruiter vs. hiring manager vs. HR

Internal recruiter: This is an employee of the company who focuses on filling jobs there.

External recruiter: This is someone outside the company who has multiple clients that they fill jobs for.

Hiring manager: This is not a manager of hiring. This is the person who will be your boss if you’re hired for the job. They manage a team or department or entire organization. For instance, if you’re applying for a job as a communications assistant, the communications director is probably the hiring manager.

HR:  HR handles benefits, compensation, ensuring compliance with labor laws, and so forth. They often do initial interview screens and facilitate the hiring process, while hiring managers do (or should do) the substantive interviews and make the hiring decision. HR often does reference checks, although good hiring managers will insist on doing their own. (By the way, I am not and was never HR. Stop calling me that.)

What other terms have I missed?

{ 141 comments… read them below }

  1. Josh S*

    Even worse than ‘terminated’ is when HR/Managers say, “Joe Schmo was separated from employment.” So completely vague, and there’s no reason to be vague with stuff like that.

    One company I worked at used ‘separated’ as their euphemism for any former employee, both internally and to their clients. It was pretty stupid.

    1. jmkenrick*

      “Me and employeement have decided to take a little time away from each other for now. I think we both need some space to work things out.”

      1. Jamie*

        This cracked me up – because it’s totally apt.

        There are a lot of similarities between leaving a job and leaving a spouse. Blame, two sides to every story (truth being in the middle most of the time), packing stuff into boxes and trying to make a dignified exit, relationships with mutual people (friends/co-workers) strained while you feel out who is still speaking to you…not to mention the anger, betrayal, and panic to transition as quickly as possible and get back to “normal.”

        During the dark moments wondering if you made the biggest mistake of your life, then remembering why you left and resolving to move on so spectacularly that they will live the rest of their lives in awe and jealousy of your success.

        A lot of self-pity, ice cream, and then you bounce back and end up in a way better place than you ever would have if you didn’t make the move.

        Yep – easy parallels.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s funny because we’ve pointed out a lot of parallels between dating and job interviewing — I hadn’t thought about the fact that the metaphor carries through once hired!

        2. Blinx*

          Jamie, your parallel is painfully funny! I was “dumped” by my employer 6 months ago, and still haven’t bounced back. In relationships, you can elect not to get back into the dating game for an indefinite period. I’m still very reluctant to get back into the employment game, but at some point my bank account will force me, ready or not!

          1. LJL*

            Perfect! I was “dumped” three years ago and still carry the scars. Now I’m beginning to laugh about the humorous parts, thanks in large portion to the AAM stuff I’ve been reading. :-)

        3. Nev*

          Today I read about another dating analogy in when companies prefer their job candidates to be currently employed. Yahoo’s Vera H-C Chan illuminates this obnoxious practice with: “Wanted: Someone exactly like my last boyfriend (see list of qualities), only better. Demonstrate success in a proven relationship, preferably a current one.”

          1. Kimmie Sue*

            Nev – that is priceless! I can’t wait to find it and share with my “hiring managers”.

    2. HR Gorilla*

      The reason some HR folks say “separated” is to avoid disclosing WHY they’re someone is no longer working at the company. If one says “terminated,” most non-HR folks will assume that means fired (when it actually just means, your employment terminated). Additionally, many UI agencies (unemployment) refer to it as “a separation from past employer.” But I get that, outside of HR, it sounds funny.

      I was once taken to task for informing a vendor (on the phone) that the employee they were calling for was no longer with us. When I got off the phone, the [non-HR] person who’d been listening to my conversation told me that I sounded like the grim reaper by saying the employee was “no longer with us”; i.e., I was making it sound like they were dead.

      There are so so many times where HR has to walk a verbal tightrope in the office; now I just say “they don’t work here any more.” In my current job, HR ‘s offices are in a little wing, away from the general populace. Although I sometimes feel isolated back here in the HR wing, I confess it’s a relief to be able to say “is Joe a resignation or an involuntary term?” or “has anyone seen Jane’s final termination warning?” out loud without worrying about possible pearlclutching from those around me. ;)

      1. Blinx*

        HR Gorrilla — “pearlclutching ” ha ha!! At my old company during a massive layoff, tons of HR contractors were brought in. They worked in cubicles along with the rest of the masses, but there were warning signs that if you didn’t have HR business, you shouldn’t be in that area.

        “Severed” is another favorite term that is used. On D-day, when we all had our appointments with our manager and HR, I pictured a bunch of severed heads piling up in the corner of the room. It’s a messy business!

        1. HR Gorilla*

          Blinx, there were literally signs warning you not to be in the area unless you were on official HR business? If so that’s hilarious. “WARNING: HR in use on this site. Proceed with caution.”

          Oh yes–I totally forgot about “severed.” Haven’t heard that in quite a while actually.

      2. ThatHRGirl*

        I think an appropriate term would be “leaving the business” or “has left the business”. Or if the term was involuntary, sometimes we say (privately of course) that are “being made available to the competetition” or “transitioned to a customer”. :)

        1. LJL*

          My usual is that “Jo(e) is no longer with the company.” Covers new jobs, firings, jail time, you name it.

  2. Max*

    Keep in mind that, as far as I’m aware, US employers in at-will states (most of them) aren’t required to tell you why they let you go. They often do, but much like the practice of workers giving two weeks notice, it’s a matter of courtesy rather than law, so it’s common but by no means universal.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      True, but while it does occasionally happen that someone is let go without being told why, it’s pretty rare. (And if anyone ever lets you go without saying why, you should ask why.)

      1. Anonymous*

        Then you have the crazy person I used to work for who asked an older coworker of mine to sign a BLANK employee review form which he said he would “fill in later” and get back to her. She refused, and he fired her the next day after ten years of employment – the last six months of which he spent criticizing everything she did. He denied her unemployment after making up tens of reasons – from insurance fraud to misuse of company time to inability to perform job duties to violation of the company’s internet policy. Whenever she’s asked why she was terminated from the position, she says that she doesn’t know the reason – because she doesn’t know what the real reason WAS.

        I should note that the guy immediately replaced her with a female employee who had been with the company as an administrative assistant for those last six months – a 20-year-old with no experience in the position my coworker had worked in. I suspect I know why he fired my coworker, and that it had nothing to do with her performance.

  3. Trudy*

    At all of the companies I’ve worked at (HR, Silicon Valley), we use, at least internally, the status “terminated” to refer to any former employee. There are voluntary terminations (i.e. the employee quit), and involuntary terminations (layoffs or firings), but at the end of the day, they’re all terminated.

    1. Ornery PR*

      Yes, I work for a PEO, and we use termed or terminated. Just part of the lingo here. For us, it’s mostly black and white; we rarely qualify the reason for the termination, just that they are no longer employed through one of our clients. It has neither a positive or negative connotation and it doesn’t sound ridiculous when we use it ;)

      1. JT*

        Trudy, who did the terminating? If an employee quits, it seems to me the company was terminated, not the employee.

        1. Trudy*

          As I see it, it’s the employment relationship that is terminated. The termination is either initiated by the employer or the employee, but the end result is the same.

      2. Long Time Admin*

        “It has neither a positive or negative connotation and it doesn’t sound ridiculous when we use it”

        Yes, it does.

        “Terminated” sounds like someone was fired for cause. Just say “Joe doesn’t work here any more”.

  4. David Richter*

    I did hear once (can’t remember where) that in days gone by the difference between being fired to being sacked was…

    You got sacked if you were a tradesman, the project was finished and you were given an actual sack to put your tools in to help carry them away from site.

    You got fired if you were a tradesman who did an astonishingly bad quality job. The townsfolk would take your tools away from them and set fire to them to prevent you from blighting other communities with your shoddy work.

  5. Anonymous*

    I have one that relates to just about every post on this blog…”Job offer” vs “not a job offer”!

  6. Julie*

    What category would it be if the employer decided to renegotiate the employee’s terms of employment and they could not come to mutually acceptable terms, so the employee left? Does that count as quitting or being laid off?

    1. Ivy*

      I would think it is quitting, because the employee is still the one choosing to leave because they do not like the terms. The employee could stay if he/she wanted to. That is different from being laid off, where the employee has no choice.

    2. Jamie*

      It depends on the verbiage.

      “We can’t come to mutually acceptable terms, so will you be willing to stay at the salary we offered?”

      If the employee doesn’t stay, it’s a voluntary quit.

      “We can’t come to mutually acceptable terms, which obviously aren’t acceptable to you so will today be your last day or will you serve out two weeks notice?”

      That’s being fired.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes — and if it’s more nebulous than that, I’d say you resigned. For instance, if it’s a situation where there were ongoing talks and they weren’t saying “accept this change or this is the end of your employment” but it was clear that something needed to change and you decided to leave, that would be resigning.

    3. Anonymous*

      Wouldn’t this potentially be constructive dismissal? I’m in Canada and not sure if same applies in US, but if employer unilaterally made changes to terms of employment then they can be held liable for dismissal.

  7. Jamie*

    I have a couple that have come up in the past…

    Temp vs Contractor (or contracted employee)

    Reference vs Employment Verification

    Co-worker vs Colleague

    For the last one, I’m not really sure. Typically people I know tend to use colleague when speaking of someone lateral to them in position and co-workers for everyone else who isn’t their boss. Not totally sure if that’s the common usage though.

    1. COT*

      I don’t know if this is correct, but I tend to use “co-worker” to describe other people at my organization and “colleague” for people at other organizations with whom I work.

    2. Ellie H.*

      Honestly, I use coworker casually and colleague to sound more formal. I wouldn’t use coworker to describe someone who had a notably more senior position than mine, I would probably refer to him or her by the title (like “the director of our office said that . . .”). But, I also use/used “colleague” to refer to other students studying the same thing I was, like in the academic sense. And obviously in academia you say “colleague” and not coworker for fellow professors either in your field or university. I agree with COT that colleague seems a bit broader and indicates it could just be the same field and not the same location.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You can use “coworker” and “colleague” interchangeably to mean “someone I work with at my company.” However, if it’s someone at another company, only “colleague” would be appropriate.

      Agreed with Ellie that you’d usually use “colleague” rather than “coworker” if it’s your boss or someone much higher than you in your company.

      1. Anonymous*

        What about “associate”? A co-worker at my last job often referred to me as an “associate” when mentioning me to other callers.

        1. Jamie*

          I like that. Sounds vaguely sinister in a 1920’s mafia kind of way.

          One of my most embarrassing workplace moments was in dealing with a vendor and we had been talking about my boss and how he owns the company…so I tripped over my words and referred to him as “my owner.”

          Yeah – the little jokes about taking me to the vet didn’t lessen the redness in my face.

          1. Kimberlee*

            LOVE this. My boss once referred to me in an introduction to a funder as his “bookkeeper, assistant and spiritual advisor.” It made me laugh.

        2. Anon2*

          I sometimes use associate. I work in a teleconference company, so for your first call you may lead it, then your next you may assist in a couple of different roles, or you may answer phone lines, etc. You may lead calls all day, but usually we do a variety. For our client’s sake, you have to differentiate but it’s inaccurate to say “my assistant” to refer to a coworker who is assisting (though more lateral than “assistant” suggests) but “coworker” is not specific enough (we’re ALL coworkers). So sometimes colleague, sometimes associate, etc. Or, “I have associates helping on the call, please bear with me while I pass that information to them.” It may sound a little stuffy, but always better to start off more professional and relax as your client lets you know it’s ok than be too informal which is more difficult to recover from.

          1. Anon2*

            I also forgot to say that “associate” sounds better than “assistant” when you’re referring to a coworker who may be leading the next call and you’re assisting. More formal, but a nice bit of respectful wording considering that we all lead/assist throughout the day. If I slip and say “my assistant”, it reminds me of magic acts or makes me feel like I’m presenting myself at a higher level than I am.

        3. Long Time Admin*

          The world’s largest retailer calls all employees “associates”. Now lots of others do it, too. I think that they think it fools all the employees into thinking they’re all equals. They’re not. (None of them, no way, no how.)

          I call my co-workers “co-workers” and my boss, my “employer”.

          I like simple words that convey the meaning of what I want to say as opposed to legal weasel terms that are meant to confuse the issue (“mistakes were made” versus “I screwed up and I’m sorry”).

          I don’t fit in, obviously.

        4. Anon*

          “Associate” is a job title in a lot of partnerships (particularly law firms but I know it’s used in other professions that structure businesses as partnerships), so depending on who you’re talking about it might be confusing.

    4. ThatHRGirl*

      I tend to use co-worker to describe people with whom I work pretty closely or are on the same level as me… Colleague to describe higher level people or people with whom I don’t work closely at my own company… and “Business Partner” when talking about people from outside organizations with whom I work either closely or occasionally.

    5. Cassie*

      I use coworker almost exclusively, for other staff members who work in our dept. The only time I use the word colleague is if I was sending an email to an outside person with something like “let me introduce you to my colleague, Wendy, who will be handling xyz”. I have heard one staff member refer to professors as his colleague – maybe because he also had a PhD (albeit in a different field) – but it’s not a word that I would use for faculty.

  8. Vicki*

    Your comment on “terminated” reminds me of an apartment building I lived in during grad school.

    One weekend, they were going to spray for bugs and we were all supposed to move our dishes out of the lower cupboards. But I left early for a trip home for the weekend and missed the notice, so I didn’t move my dishes.

    I came back to a note on the door that said “Next time, you will be exterminated along with everyone else.”

    (I moved out of that complex soon after…)

    1. Anna*

      That reminds me of a line in Lynne Truss’s “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” in which people had put up a sign about the “Giant Kid’s Playground.” Truss’s theory about why that playground went unused is brilliant: everyone was “afraid of the Giant Kid.”

      1. jmkenrick*

        That reminds me of that old joke: “Let’s eat Grampa!” versus “Let’s eat, Grandpa!”

          1. khilde*

            This one just about sent me to the hospital from laughing when I first saw it:

            Grammar. The difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit.

  9. Yup*

    CV vs Resume
    Exempt vs Salaried / Nonexempt vs Hourly
    Benefits vs Incentives/Rewards
    Bonus vs Commission
    EEOC vs Fair Labor Standards

    1. Michael*

      A lot of people in the confuse the difference between the curriculum vitæ (CV) and résumé. If you want a synopsis, ask for the résumé (1-2 pages). If you want to learn every little detail about their entire professional career, ask for the CV (6+ pages).

  10. Anonymous*

    I normally comment with a username, but I don’t want this being tied back to me somehow (I assume only Alison can see my email? I hope?!). Here’s my question:

    I was let go from a position a few years ago after less than a year. They told me they were eliminating my PT position and creating a new FT position which had the same duties plus fieldwork. They gave me the option to apply, knowing full-well that I cannot drive. Since I declined to apply, I was told that my leaving would be considered a lay-off. However, deep down, I really think they were looking for a way to get rid of me. I usually don’t let this kind of cynicism show, but I readily admit that I was a bit of a handful due to self-confidence and time management issues.

    Whenever asked (such as in interviews), I state that I was laid off; however, if pressed further, I don’t go into details other than that my position was eliminated. I know I’m using the right terminology (I easily got Unemployment), so that’s not the issue. It’s just that I sometimes worry that my underlying issues at this job may’ve hurt me in my job hunt. No, I don’t have any proof, but it’s been bugging me for a long time.

    Sorry, I know that’s beyond the intention of this post, but seeing the terminology laid out made me rethink my situation.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It definitely sounds like a layoff, officially, but you could be right that they used this as a kinder out than firing you. (Or rather, they thought it was kinder — sometimes it’s kinder to be honest with people.) Either way, though, you get to call it a layoff.

    2. KellyK*

      I wonder if it’s not going into details that’s the problem, if that gives the impression that you’re not being fully honest. There shouldn’t be anything wrong with saying that they decided to eliminate your PT position and create an FT position that rolled your previous duties in together with field work, making it a job you were no longer qualified for.

      That can’t be completely unheard of–if companies combine jobs to reduce headcount, they’re going to end up letting go people who were perfectly good at job A, but wouldn’t be at job A+B.

      I think if you’re worried about this job affecting your job hunt, have someone call to see what they’re saying about you. If they *don’t* have it listed as a layoff, then that’s a problem.

    3. moss*

      It’s probably more important to examine within yourself if you’ve gotten over the “self-confidence and time management issues.”

      If you can fairly describe yourself as “a handful” they are probably describing you much more colorfully amongst themselves. That’s not being cynical.

      And if any of this is coming across in interviews, it’s almost certainly hurting your job hunt. Employers can be very picky these days.

  11. Kate*

    I once worked at a company whose unofficial motto was “Termination doesn’t just mean you’re fired!”
    It was an electronics manufacturing firm with high turnover.

  12. Rana*

    It should be noted, too, that the difference between being “fired” and being “laid off” can have practical ramifications, too. I was advised quite strongly (after I was laid off) that I should never describe myself to the unemployment office as having been fired. Apparently (at least in that state at that time) the difference could have effects on how your unemployment was handled; I think it might have been even as extreme as fired workers not being eligible for unemployment support in the same way laid off ones were.

    It may have been more rumor than truth, but I wasn’t about to take the risk.

    1. Jamie*

      It’s that extreme in many states. Although even people who were fired for cause often get unemployment (whether they should… I won’t digress) but if you’re laid off it’s a much easier process and a lot less investigation and paperwork.

      That is a distinction with a very significant difference when it comes to UE.

    2. Erik*

      It depends on your situation.

      I was at one job, where they pulled a bait and switch on me. I was hired for one job, and then they decided to switch gears on me and put me in a role that I wasn’t even remotely qualified for.

      They used that as an excuse to fire me. I explained the situation to the state unemployment department, and they approved getting support.

      1. Mike C.*

        That’s because, for lack of a better term, “sucking at your job” still nets you unemployment. It’s not your choice to be hired, and you don’t get to chose the responsibilities handed to you. Thus, why should you go without the protection if things turn south?

        1. KellyK*

          Yep. And with at-will employment, a given company’s definition of “sucking at your job” could be anything from complete slacking and incompetence to failing to meet completely unreasonable expectations to not going to enough company happy hours.

          I think that if firing for cause was too broadly defined, it would make it really easy for a company to *never* pay unemployment. Instead of laying people off, just double their expected work hours, cut their deadlines in half, or assign responsibilities that have nothing to do with their original role and qualifications.

          Not that any *decent* company would do that, but I’ve certainly heard plenty of horror stories about companies in financial trouble pulling “cause” out of nowhere to fire as many people as possible before doing actual layoffs. Legally, it’s a good loophole to have closed.

    3. mh_76*

      In some states, even people who are believed by the company to have been fired for cause can get UI benefits (albeit there will probably be an investigation because the company will probably challenge the claim). At least in my state, if you were let go and what led to your being let go was not (paraphrasing here) willful, malicious, against the company’s best interest, then you the former employee are likely to be able to keep your UI benefits. If the UI investigaton finds that you were willful, malicious, etc. and that is what led to your being let go, then you will likely have to repay any prior UI benefits and not receive any more. Where I am, the General Laws are very clear, even if they take a second or third read to weed through all of the extraneous legalese and conditional statements (which become easier to understand if you think in terms of if…then…else statements).

      Shorter version: if you were let go for liking the opposing baseball team, you will likely be able to get & keep Unemployment Insurance benefits, even if the company challenges. If you were let go for deliberately being careless with confidential information and the company can prove that (if need be), then you will likely not be able to keep UI benefits, if you are able to get them at all.

      1. Jamie*

        Unfortunately in some states it’s really weighted against the employer for justified firings.

        In my state only Gross Misconduct will disqualify you for UE and that bar is set really high.

        Incompetence, laziness, slacking…none of that meets the standard. There are defiantly people who game the system and lobby to get fired rather than quit, because it’s so stacked in their favor to get UE as long as they don’t cross that line.

        1. mh_76*

          It does indeed differ state by state. I’m not sure if my state would count “Incompetence, laziness, slacking” as willful/malicious but I’m not sure…might depend on the UI investiagtor, the company, and the let go employee handle their parts of the case.

        2. Joey*

          Jaime, my state’s gross misconduct also. All of those things can be gross misconduct if you approach it right. And it’s pretty easy to justify the extra time and effort when you consider the cost alternative.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Generally UI likes things to be very black and white and they don’t do well with nuance. So they tend to consider fired with cause (and thus ineligible for UI) to be things like absenteeism, chronic lateness, insubordination, drinking at work, etc. But if the reason is something like mediocre work or inefficiency (i.e, the person just wasn’t doing a good job), they tend to rule that as eligible for UI.

        1. Anonna Miss*

          That’s been my experience. I wasn’t happy at my job, and they weren’t happy with me, and I made the mistake of emailing (from my work email) a former boss at a competitor about going back . They’d also lost two very large clients, and were heavily outsourcing work to India, AND I was the last hired.

          Still. I applied for UI, and told them I’d been sitting through an online training, got an instant message to go to the boss’s office, and was told I was being let go immediately. I was so stunned, whether or not I should have been, I didn’t even ask for the official reason. I just wanted to get my stuff and get out of the building before I burst into tears in front of any coworkers. The company challenged my UI claim, but since I’d just been sitting quietly at my computer, the UI people were pretty incredulous, especially since I hadn’t so much as been written up for anything. They asked if I’d gotten into a verbal or physical altercation or something right before getting fired, or how often I was written up for absenteeism, etc. Their challenge was dismissed, and I got two whole weeks of UI before going back to work for the old boss I’d emailed.

          Unrelated, at least I hope, but some companies have a policy of challenging all UI claims, because they don’t want their rates to increase. There are even “unemployment management” outsource companies that will challenge all claims for a company for a fee.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yep. And it’s a really bad idea for companies to do that. Any employment lawyer will tell you that challenging unemployment makes it more likely that the fired employee will sue the employer (with or without true cause). Say you’ve got someone who was fired and thinks maybe it was because of her age/disability/pregnancy/whatever but isn’t sure and/or isn’t planning to pursue it. Then you deny her unemployment, which comes across to most people as “they fired me and now they want me to starve and lose my house.” Now she’s bitter and angry, and she decides to sue you after all. Even if you win, you’re going to have to spend time and money dealing with it. There’s just no point in challenging unemployment in most cases, unless it was truly egregious.

            1. Joey*

              Try telling stakeholders that you “give” money to the lazy and incompetent when you fire them. It almost sounds like maybe your reason for firing them wasn’t so good afterall so you’re giving them money to go quietly.

              That’s an unnecessary cost. Sure there are times when you don’t fight unemployment, but you certainly don’t hand it out to everyone.

              And you can’t go around giving everyone unemployment just because youre scared they might sue you. People who are bitter and angry are bitter and angry long before you deny their unemployment. Besides, denied unemployment is evidence that works in your favor if you are sued.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I see unemployment as a piece of the social contract safety net, but I realize different people see it differently.

                I also had someone sue after we challenged his unemployment, so I may be scarred. (We won, but it was a pain in the ass.)

                1. Joey*

                  Let me tell you people are going to sue no matter how good your reason for firing. You can’t let that dictate your actions or you’ll find yourself scared to do the right thing.

                  I’ve had to fire folks that I absolutely knew we’re going to sue. They were bitter, unreasonable, and unaccountable for anything they did wrong. Were their claims valid, no. Did they absolutely believe the claims were valid? For some I think yes. But there was nothing more I could do to change that. So all you can do is prepare the best you can and make decisions for the right reasons that are in the organizations best interest.

              2. Jamie*

                “That’s an unnecessary cost. Sure there are times when you don’t fight unemployment, but you certainly don’t hand it out to everyone.”

                I agree with this. I firmly believe in uncontested UE for layoffs and restructures where someone loses their position through no fault of their own.

                I also believe that companies should contest it when someone is fired for cause – because I don’t think a person who was let go for performance or behavioral reasons should have the same entitlement to a safety net as someone affected by circumstances beyond their control.

                This is one of the 9 million reasons I could never be in HR – the ethical disconnect between what I think is right and how the world actually works would kill me.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  There are so many shades of grey though with performance issues — all the way from not trying/didn’t care to really tried hard and just didn’t have what it took to do well in the job.

                2. Jamie*

                  “really tried hard and just didn’t have what it took to do well in the job.”

                  And that’s where it would come down to what is beyond their control for me. If someone gave it their all and couldn’t meet the bar…well logically I don’t know if the company owes them anything, but morally and ethically…not fighting it would be the kind thing to do.

                  But if someone absolutely could have kept their job if they tried, but opted not to? I don’t think the company or the tax payers owe them a thing.

                  It’s delineating between the two which is definitely a delicate skill…and not one I necessarily possess.

                3. Joey*

                  Obviously you cant operate that way or you’ll tend to play favorites. It’s really simple for me. For someone that’s busting their ass I try to help them find a job their better suited for. But in my book it’s under their control if I took reasonable steps to correct the performance and they still missed the mark.

                4. Charles*

                  Responding to both Jamie and AAM:

                  “I also believe that companies should contest it when someone is fired for cause.”


                  “There are so many shades of grey though with performance issues.”

                  Scope creep often comes into play or an employer misleading the job seeker about the details of the job. The new employee is then in over her head and it is through no fault on her part! She shouldn’t be “punished” because of poor management or misleading job descriptions or poor hiring skills of an agency.

          2. Anonymous*

            When I worked in a local UI claims office, there were certain employers that we knew would fight every UI claim, no matter how clear it was that the claimant would have been no-questions-asked eligible if everyone played fair. It was kind of frustrating to hear through the grapevine that they were “making cuts,” because we knew we were in for weeks of dealing with appeals from people who knew they were actually laid off (eligible), but the employer found some piddly fault or dusted off some unreasonable, never enforced policy and called them fired (not eligible, at least not without an investigation and a 6 week wait). From what I hear, the adjudicators were generally not amused by their creativity.

            1. Charles*

              Ha! yes! Years ago I was “fired” from a company in a state which usually sided with the employer.

              While I found a new job within a week, other former co-workers were no so lucky. So, one day I went to the UI office and told them that while I was working and wasn’t applying for UI benefits I would like to “register” as being “fired” so that they could see the number of “fired” folks from this company and realize what the employer was up to.

              The folks at the UI office seemed to think that I was just crazy. Seriously, I told them, some of my former co-workers were being accused of serious things like theft. After a while I did get to speak with a manager who seemed interested (or maybe she was just trying to humor the crazy man?), she did take my information.

              Later I heard from some of my former co-workers that their UI wasn’t being challenged anymore, so maybe my craziness helped them out?!

  13. Anonymous*

    Our HR (and it is one person, not a department) makes the final call on hiring, firing, and raises (or lack thereof). For instance, my immediate supervisor asked her about putting me on salary and allowing me to work from home for four hours a day, three days a week, so that I could study for the bar. He had no issue with it at all, and thought it was a great idea. HR said no, because she didn’t think it was fair to other employees who might want to work from home for other reasons. He also wanted to give me a raise and she turned it down because she didn’t think my performance warranted it (and I have this in an email from her directly). I understand HR is involved with compensation, hiring, firing, and status changes, but in our office, she is the absolute last word. Is this uncommon?

    1. ThatHRGirl*

      Yes/No… On the work-from-home aspect, I can see why HR got involved. Your boss may not have realized he was setting precident by allowing you that opportunity. On the raise thing… that’s a little weird. I can’t see very many instances where myself or my boss would step in and stop someone from giving their employee a raise, out of their budget, because of performance issues that we saw that their boss didn’t. If ever we stop something like that, it’s because the person is approaching max-out, or some other factor.

      1. Anonymous*

        The work from home thing was just a bit weird to me because other people in the company work from home frequently – and this would be a very temporary (two month) situation. I still can’t figure out the raise thing – especially since I do zero work for her, and I’ve gotten above-average reviews on all my evaluations. It’s not just me, either. Other coworkers have mentioned this – but since she is the only person in HR, it’s not like we can complain to anyone! :)

        1. ThatHRGirl*

          Yeah, that is weird. There have definitely been times where I’ve said “Really? ____ is getting a raise? Okay.” And left it at that.

    2. Jamie*

      “I understand HR is involved with compensation, hiring, firing, and status changes, but in our office, she is the absolute last word. Is this uncommon?”

      I’ve never seen this. Typically HR in a well run company brings their expertise to these matters, but I’ve never seen them where they are the sole arbiter of these matters outside of their own department.

      I do think the working from home is an HR thing though, because they do need to make sure there aren’t repercussions from precedents which may not be apparent to the manager who wants to grant extra privileges. The other stuff is unusual involvement, imo.

    3. Joey*

      If your HR is responsible for hiring, firing, and raises its probably because the managers can’t be trusted with those things.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        If that’s the case, they’ve done a really terrible job of hiring. AND they’re poorly managed since they don’t recognize that!

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      HR should not be the final word when it comes to hiring, firing, raises, or things like working from home. They should be advising managers, and they should be looking out for things that could be legally problematic for the company, but their role should be an advisory one — if it’s not, you’re in a questionably run company!

  14. Student*

    HR departments can be dramatically different than this. This is the traditional definition, but like most job titles, it depends on the company.

    I work at a college (~50,000 staff), in a laboratory (~500 staff). The college has an HR department, and the laboratory has an HR department. The college HR department handles things like compensation and benefits. Many different people handle labor law here, but none are HR . The laboratory HR people are slightly involved in hiring, as are the college HR people (not as much as a traditional HR department). A lab HR person might sit in on an interview and ask some soft questions, while a college HR person will check whether or not you included any minorities/women in your candidate pool. A lab HR person is responsible for posting job openings and doing the paperwork to make sure a new hire gets a paycheck and a computer account.

    I found this out the hard way when I took a personnel/legal conflict to lab HR (after trying to settle the issue directly and with my manager). They were very confused as to why I was bothering them.

    1. mh_76*

      That setup is similar to what the setup was when I worked for X-Univ – there was a Univ. HR department and each College/School/Department had their own HR person (or dept). I think that the Department HR person handled some complaints as well but I don’t remember the specifics of who did what…other than to say that it was similar to what you outline here.

  15. Joey*

    Hostile work environment v. bullying v. harrassment

    Manage v. Supervise v. Lead

    Attack v. Criticize

  16. Marie*

    On call vs independant

    For some reason my sales managers insist on calling our on call demostrator independant workers !!! I’m trying to stop that and it’s kind of working, these people are in no way independant workers.

    The person I’m replacing was even paying them as independant !

  17. Andy Lester*

    The key problem with vague terms like “terminated” is that it leaves it to the reader to make his/her own guess at what it really means. That guess will probably not be what you want them to think.

  18. Anonymous*

    Another termination category is “asked to resign”. This can be a little cloudy but to me it means we’re going to fire you but will give you an opportunity to resign. Often it will be worded like they’re doing you a favor but in my experience it usually means that your manager did a crappy job of documenting your issues.

    1. Anonymous*

      That’s not always the case. High level executives will usually be asked to resign rather than be fired; it doesn’t mean that one’s manager did a bad job in documenting issues.

    2. Victoria*

      I’ve always wondered: Do people who are “asked to resign” receive unemployment?

      Last summrer, the (much reviled, by many) Superintendent of the Philadelphia was asked to resign (in fact, she received a $900,000 payout that was initially funded by anonymous private donors – but ended up coming from the city when the donors backed out) and later filed for unemployment.

  19. Ade*

    TJ- for Alison or anyone else: If I want to combine a section on my resume with Teaching, Community Service (all education-based) and Academic Service, can I just call it “Teaching and Service” or does that not make sense? These activities aren’t the main focus of my resume and I’d like to put them all together.

  20. ARM2008*

    Direct Employee vs Permanent Employee
    Anyone who thinks they are a permanent employee has a reality issue.

    Contractor vs. PEO Employee
    Almost everybody calls us contractors because we aren’t direct employees of the company where we work, but in fact, we are direct employees of the PEO that placed us there.

    1. Jamie*

      I like that you used a different term for ‘permanent’ employee – as I’ve always felt that term was an oxymoron.

      However, in manufacturing a direct employee is often someone who works directly on production an indirect employee does not (sales, management, support staff, etc.) I think direct employee is perfect for other industries that don’t use this classification.

      Still need to find a phrase to use in the manufacturing sector, though.

      1. Anna*

        Just looked it up on Wikipedia. There’s a broad human-rights concept, but the “right to work” you’re probably talking about isn’t what it sounds like to those of us on — for lack of a better phrase — the other side of the HR-department door.

  21. Charlotte*

    Thank you for mentioning hostile work environment and right-to-work!
    So, specific to HR people mostly but:

    HR Specialist vs. HR Generalist

    Just because I’m in HR doesn’t mean I’m an HR Specialist. An HR Specialist is someone who has specialized in a specific area of HR.

  22. Anonymous*

    I’m a recent college grad and discussed with my boss that I will be looking for a full-time job after graduation (he asked, I was honest). This caused him to look for a replacement for my position and he found one before I found a job. Would this mean I was fired or that I quit with ample notice to let him look for a replacement?

      1. Anonymous*

        Also, is the talk about how employers prefer candidates that are already employed true?

        1. Max*

          Some do, though not all – the thought process is that if they’re really such a good worker, why were they unemployed and why are they still unemployed? Were they fired? Are they doing terribly in interviews? Are their skills as great as their resume suggests? Are they desperate for any job regardless of fit? It gives people room to make vague speculations that maybe something’s wrong with you, which is all some hiring managers need to filter your resume out of the hundreds they’ve received.

          Of course, refusing to hire people who don’t have jobs can be an obviously flawed practice at times, but it’s just another aspect of an issue everyone has to deal with: being judged on their job history. For example, there might be perfectly innocent reasons for leaving a job after a few months or being drastically underpaid, but many managers will expect the worst when they see it on your resume (especially if it’s happened more than once) and you won’t always get a chance to explain yourself.

          1. Anonymous*

            Thank you for the explanation! It’s strange to assume all that just because someone doesn’t have a job (especially in a tough economy). The logic that an employed person is better doesn’t make sense because an unemployed person is theoretically more flexible for interviews and to start right away. Not to mention, they may negotiate for less or be more likely to accept a job offer because they don’t have a backup (meaning their current job as an employed candidate has). I’m not by any means saying this is all true, just based on possible assumptions.

            I wonder if leeway is given to unemployed college graduates? Would the assumptions still apply?

            1. Max*

              Well, the idea is that people tend to assume that the workplace is entirely merit-driven, and therefore the worst workers are the most likely to get fired or forced out of jobs, and also the most likely to have a harder time finding a new job right away, so people will sometimes decide that the unemployed are more likely to have issues with their skills, personality, or performance. It’s harder to hire currently-employed people, but the higher perceived quality of such applicants makes them worth the trouble in many HR reps’ eyes.

              Of course, there are other reasons to leave a job (such as relocating or getting out of a dead-end position) so the above assumptions aren’t anywhere near 100% reliable, but any method of filtering resumes is going to catch some good applicants along with the bad and hiring managers are aware of that collateral damage. The GOOD hiring managers are also aware of the current economic climate and will cut people some slack due to the recession, especially for groups such as recent grads, but after a few months you’ll need to find SOMETHING to do to avoid leaving too large a hole on your resume.

              1. mh_76*

                First paragraph: well said! Maybe in the long long ago, that was the case but I’ve seen too many duds find & keep jobs and too many stars (includes attitude, not just aptitude) go through hellish job searches and be booted out the door for no good reason.

                Volunteering, even if it’s not related to your professional, even if it’s not during the traditional workday (hence can continue vol. once you find your next job) is a good way to avoid chronological gaps in your resume.

                1. Anonymous*

                  That’s a good point about the volunteering! It can also give experience and skills that may be relevant to the position.

        2. Jamie*

          I wonder if the preference for the already employed is dependent on the position.

          If you’re hiring a new C-level manager few companies expect them to be able to start tomorrow. But for entry level spots, I wonder if it comes into play as much?

          Just speaking for myself, the job and the money would need to be a lot more appealing if I were changing jobs than it was when I was between jobs and needed to find something because the bills were mounting.

          1. Anonymous*

            This is a good point! In this case, someone who’s unemployed may not negotiate for as much as someone potentially leaving their existing job. All the more reason for hiring managers not to base their decisions on employment statuses without an explanation.

  23. Charles*

    Kinda off topic; but, years ago in college I had someone ask me if I was a “temp” or a “real person.”

    I told her that I was a real person who was temping. She then stammered that she meant was I someone worth getting to know or would I be gone in a couple of days.

    I said that I would be gone in a couple of days; but, thought I was worth getting to know anyway.

    Some people and language never seem to go well together!

    P.S., she really was a nice person.

  24. Shoop*

    I was terminated from a job, no discipinery etc. When he said he had to terminate my contract he said the reason was embarressing!! WTF! He let me keep the company car for two weeks, and paid me for a full month plus holidays! Plus a letter with my P45 saying thank you for all the help and wishing me well in the future. Never did find out why…I can only guess I was due to complete 12 months employment with them two months later. I found out 6 months later he’d employed a 2 part timers on self employed basis to do my job…

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