Jargon Buster

Clear communication is at the heart of our approach. There’s a lot of HR Jargon, so we’ve untangled it for you here.

Click on the terms below for a straightforward explanation, A-Z:


Unscheduled time off that occurs when an employee is not present at work during a normally scheduled period.  Too many unscheduled absences can result in the termination of an employee’s employment. This is generally governed by the organisation’s attendance policy.

Adoption Leave
Employees who have worked for their employers for at least 26 weeks before being notified of a match for adoption are automatically entitled to a total of 52 weeks Adoption Leave, comprising 26 weeks Ordinary Adoption Leave (OAL) and 26 weeks Additional Adoption Leave (AAL).
Annual Leave

The amount of paid time off you are entitled to as an employee.  There is a minimum right to paid holiday, but your employer may offer more than this. The main things you should know about holiday rights are that:

  • you are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks paid annual leave (28 days for someone working five days a week)
  • part-time workers are entitled to the same level of holiday pro rata (so 5.6 times your usual working week, eg 22.4 days for someone working four days a week)
  • you start building up holiday as soon as you start work
  • your employer can control when you take your holiday
  • you get paid your normal pay for your holiday
  • when you finish a job, you get paid for any holiday you have not taken
  • bank and public holidays can be included in your minimum entitlement
  • you continue to be entitled to your holiday leave throughout your ordinary and additional maternity leave and paternity and adoption leave

An alternative dispute resolution method that uses a neutral third party (i.e. arbitrator) to resolve individual, group or labour-management conflicts and issue a binding decision.

Associative Discrimination

Direct discrimination against someone because they associate with someone who possesses a protected characteristic, e.g.refusing to employ someone who is married to a Muslim, even if the person themselves is not Muslim.

Background Checks

Background checking is the process of authenticating the information supplied to a potential employer by a job applicant in his or her resumé, application and interviews. In most application processes, lying about background and credentials will keep the employer from hiring the applicant. Background checking ensures the employer that the candidate has the background and experience he or she claims.


A measurement of the quality of an organisation’s policies, products, programmes and strategies, and their comparison with standard measurements, or similar measurements of its peers.

Businesses undertake benchmarking to determine what and where improvements are called for, to analyse how other organisations achieve high levels of success and to use this information to improve performance.

Breach of Contract

Occurring when an individual who is a party to a contract or agreement does not uphold or violates the terms of the contract.

Burden of Proof

Term used in discrimination cases, it means the burden placed on an employer to provide a verifiable, legitimate and non discriminatory reason for any employment action taken which may have resulted in adverse treatment of a member(s) of a protected group.

Career Development

The process by which individuals establish their current and future career objectives and assess their existing skills, knowledge or experience levels and implement an appropriate course of action to attain their desired career objectives.


Coaching is the process of identifying someone's desires, talents and dreams, and giving them confidence and skills to achieve their ambitions. From athletes to businesspeople, good coaching is recognised as one of the key elements of success in all major competitive fields. It is one of the fastest growing business skills today and a highly effective form of personal development.

Compassionate Leave

If you need time off to cope with a situation that doesn’t fall under the ‘time off for dependents’ right, you may have a right to time off under your contract of employment.  Many employers will have a scheme for compassionate leave and details should be included in your contract or employment handbook. If the situation is not covered by any scheme then you can still ask your employer for the time off, although they do not have to agree to your request.


The knowledge, skills and abilities required to perform a specific task or function.

Constructive Dismissal

Constructive dismissal is a form of dismissal. If an employee resigns from a job because of his/her employer’s behaviour, it may be considered to be constructive dismissal. Employees would need to show that:

  1. Their employer has committed a serious breach of contract
  2. They felt forced to leave because of that breach
  3. They have not done anything to suggest that they have accepted your breach or a change in employment conditions

Possible examples of constructive dismissal

The reason for leaving the job must be serious – there must be a fundamental breach of contract. Examples include:

  • a serious breach of contract (eg not paying wages or suddenly demoting an employee for no reason)
  • forcing employees to accept unreasonable changes to their conditions of employment without their agreement (eg suddenly telling them to work in another town, or making them work night shifts when their contract is only for day work)
  • bullying, harassment or violence by work colleagues
  • making them work in dangerous conditions

It may be a single event or the last in a series of less important incidents that are serious when taken together.  

Contract of Employment

A Contract of Employment is a written document that contains certain prescribed information (see below for details) defined by law. If you do not issue one, then you can be taken to an Employment Tribunal. As a legal minimum your employee contracts must contain at least the following:

  • names of the parties to the contract – employer and employee
  • employee’s place (or places) of work
  • employee’s job title or a brief description of their job
  • employment start date and if appropriate the date when the employee’s continuous employment is deemed to have started
  • employee’s pay rate and pay frequency
  • hours of work
  • employee’s holiday entitlement
  • details of the notice to be given by the employer and employee to terminate the contract of employment
  • details of sick pay arrangements
  • details of the pension arrangements relevant to the employee
  • information about your discipline and grievance procedures
  • details of any collective agreements that affect the employment
  • whether the employment is temporary or permanent and if it is not permanent how long the employment is expected to continue
  • if it is a fixed term contract, the date when the fixed term will end
Cost of living adjustment (COLA)

An annual adjustment in wages to offset a change in purchasing power, as measured by the Consumer Price Index. The Consumer Price Index is used rather than the Producer Price Index because the purpose is to offset inflation as experienced by the consumer, not the producer.  

Cross dressing

To occasionally wear clothes traditionally associated with people of the other sex. Cross-dressers are usually comfortable with the sex they were assigned at birth and do not wish to change it.


The process of assigning tasks or projects to subordinates and clearly dictating expected outcomes and timeframe for completion.

Disciplinary action

The means of reprimanding employees who fail to abide by the organization’s performance standards, policies or rules.

Direct Discrimination

Someone is treated less favourably than another person because of a protected characteristic.

Discrimination by perception

Direct discrimination against someone because the others think they posses a particular protected characteristic.


An employee is an individual who was hired by an employer to do a specific job. The employee is hired by the employer after an application and interview process results in his or her selection as an employee.

Employee handbook

A written or electronic document containing summaries of the employer’s policies and benefits designed to familiarise employees with various matters affecting the employment relationship.

Exit interview

The formal interview that takes place between an employee and an HR or other manager to find out why an employee is leaving. Exit interviews are good opportunities to figure out why someone is leaving your organisation. Effective exit interviews can help improve your bottom line by reducing turnover and the associated costs of hiring and training new employees. You may get some valuable tips about the problems and issues that are causing your employees to leave.  


A policy or practice designed to help families spend more time together and/or enjoy a better quality of life.

Gross misconduct

Gross misconduct is a single act of misconduct that is serious enough on its own to justify the employee’s immediate dismissal. Some offences will almost always be gross misconduct, whatever the nature of your business, for instance, fighting, stealing, arson or deliberate falsification of time-sheets. However there is no statutory definition of what constitutes gross misconduct, so it is up to each employer to define what types of conduct will be regarded as gross misconduct. It is be important for employers to do this clearly so that employees and their managers properly understand the types of conduct that will lead to dismissal.


An employee handbook is a compilation of the policies, procedures, working conditions, and behavioural expectations that guide employee actions in a particular workplace. Employee handbooks generally also include information about the company, employee compensation and benefits, and additional terms and conditions of employment.


Harassment by a third party Employers are potentially liable for harassment of their staff by people they don’t employ. Harassment occurs when, on the grounds of disability, race, belief, sex, sexual orientation or religion an employer – or their agent (for example a manager, or another employee) – engages in unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity, or creates a degrading, hostile, offensive or humiliating environment for the employee in question. Such actions can be:

  • Physical conduct
  • Verbal conduct
  • Non-verbal conduct
Hot Desks

A method of saving office space in which workers do not have their own desk but share the same desk at different times during the day or week.

Incentive pay

Additional compensation used to motivate and reward employees for exceeding performance or productivity goals.


The process of introducing a new employee into the organisation.


Used during the selection process, an interview is a face-to-face meeting with an individual or group, which involves asking questions to elicit information from the applicant to determine whether or not an applicant is suitable for a position of employment.

Job Descriptions

A written description of a job which includes information regarding the general nature of the work to be performed, specific responsibilities and duties, and the employee characteristics required to perform the job.

Job Sharing

The practice of two different employees performing the tasks of one full-time position.


Key Performance Indicators. Tasks that have been agreed between an employee and line manager/HR with an expectation that they will be completed satisfactorily in the time agreed or as an ongoing task.


A temporary termination of employees, or the elimination of jobs, during periods of economic downturn or organisational restructuring.

Law emanating from Parliament in the form of Acts.
Lump-sum payment

A fixed negotiated payment that is not typically included in an employee’s annual salary; often given in lieu of pay increases.


Workplace mentoring is a learning partnership between employees for purposes of sharing technical information, institutional knowledge and insight with respect to a particular occupation, profession or organisation. Informal mentoring relationships may develop in the work setting when a more experienced employee takes a new employee “under his/her wing”. More formally, the process can involve an outside trainer and an employee, whereby the former will ‘train’ the latter. See also Coaching.

Minimum wage

The lowest level of earnings of employees set by Government.

Organisation chart
A graphic representation outlining how authority and responsibility are distributed within an organisation.

A contractual agreement between an employer and an external third party provider whereby the employer transfers responsibility and management for certain HR, benefit or training related functions or services to the external provider.

Parental leave

Parental leave is available to parents and adoptive parents of children under the age of 5 (or 18 in the case of disabled children) and can be used in conjunction with Paternity or Adoption Leave in order to extend the time that parents are away from work in order to look after their children.

Positive action in recruitment

Positive action means the steps that an employer can take to encourage people from groups with different needs or with a past record of disadvantage or low participation, to apply for jobs. Employers are permitted, not required, to take positive action.

Probationary period

The purpose of a probationary period is to provide a framework for identifying and sorting out any early difficulties which may occur in the performance of the job, and to provide for early termination of employment if such difficulties are not resolvable during this period.


A voluntary resignation from employment that is initiated by the employee.

Random Testing

Drug and alcohol tests administered by an employer which selects employees to be tested on a random basis.


The process of bringing into an organisation personnel who will possess the appropriate education, qualifications, skills and experience for the post offered.


The act of dismissing an employee when that employee is surplus to the requirements of the organisation.

Restrictive covenant

A contract clause requiring executives or other highly skilled employees to refrain from seeking and obtaining employment with competitor organisations in a specific geographical region and for a specified period of time.

Right to Work

In accordance with the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 (Section 8(2)), an employer is required to verify that the employee has the right to work in the UK. The employee will be asked to provide original copies of certain documents (prior to, or upon commencement of employment) which are considered legal proof of the employee’s right to work in the UK.


A voluntary arrangement whereby an employer allows an employee paid or unpaid leave for a specified duration of time in order for the employee to pursue a course of advanced training, teach or perform a public service. In education, it is a period of time in which college or university teachers are allowed to stop their usual work in order to study or travel, usually while continuing to be paid (typically every seven years).


Salary is a fixed amount of money or compensation paid to an employee by an employer in return for work performed.

Training and development


A process dealing primarily with transferring or obtaining knowledge, attitudes and skills needed to carry out a specific activity or task.

Training Needs Analysis
A method of analysing how employee skill deficits can be addressed through current or future training and professional development programs. This determines the types of training/development programs required, and how to prioritise training/development.
Unfair Dismissal
The term “unfair dismissal” describes a dismissal that doesn’t fall within one of the fair statutory resons to dismiss. These are (1) conduct; (2) capability; (3) redundancy; (4) retirement; (5) illegality; or (6) some other substantial reason.

Groups of workers who have formed incorporated associations relating to the type of work that they perform.

Unjustifiable dismissal

The act of terminating an employee’s employment agreement for a reason that the Employment Relations Authority or Employment Court regards as unjustifiable.

Unpaid Leave

Unpaid leave is time off from work which is provided without pay. When an employee takes or is given unpaid leave, he/she retains a position in the company, and many retain benefits as well, but the employee receives no salary.


Someone is treated badly because they have made/supported a complaint or grievance under the Equality Act 2010.

Whistle blower

Whistle blower protection is contained in the Protected Disclosures Act 2000. The Act provides protection to employees against retaliation for reporting illegal acts of employers. An employer may not rightfully retaliate in any way, such as discharging, demoting, suspending or harassing the whistle blower. Employer retaliation of any kind may result in the whistle blower bringing a personal grievance against the employer.

Work-Life Balance

Having a measure of control over when, where and how an individual works, leading to their being able to enjoy an optimal quality of life. Work-life balance is achieved when an individual’s right to a fulfilled life inside and outside paid work is accepted and respected as the norm, to the mutual benefit of the individual, business and society.

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