The Big List of HR Terms: Every HR Definition You Need To Know
Want to know the most common HR terms and their definitions? Keep this glossary on hand.
ATS, employee handbook, HRIS, workers’ comp … there are plenty of acronyms and terms in the HR world to know and stay on top of. Sometimes you need a glossary on hand when you’re stuck trying to remember a definition, or you’re wanting to learn some new terminology.
Use this guide to help you build your Employee Handbook — or better yet, start with our Employee Handbook Builder.
Whatever your situation is, we’ve got the ultimate HR glossary to help! In it, you’ll find the most common HR terms and their definitions. Click on any of the letters below to jump to words that start with that letter.
When an employee habitually fails to show up for work as scheduled without good reason.
Willingness to take responsibility for one’s actions, such as when it comes to workplace conduct, job performance, and assigned projects.
Employment actions that seem neutral but are discriminatory toward a legally-protected group. Adverse impact can happen in many aspects of employment, including hiring, training and development, promotion, performance evaluation, transfer, and termination.
Affirmative Action (AA)
A set of policies that aim to promote equal employment opportunities for individuals of an underrepresented group, such as women and minorities.
The practice of treating someone unfairly based on their age — also called “age discrimination.” Examples include refusing to promote someone or denying benefits to older employees solely because of their age.
Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
A federal law that forbids discrimination, including in employment, on the basis of disability.
Applicant Tracking System (ATS)
A software application that lets recruiters and employers track candidates during the recruitment and hiring stages. Streamlines the recruitment and hiring processes, from start to end.
When an employee leaves the organization — whether voluntarily or involuntarily — and is not replaced.
Verification of an applicant’s identity and personal information, such as Social Security number, date of birth, education, criminal and employment history, credit, and references.
Ban the Box
Depending on the employer’s location, it may be illegal to put criminal-history questions on job applications.
A job interview technique used to predict future performance by asking the candidate about their past work experiences and behaviors.
The process of comparing different aspects of the organization against those of competitor organizations in order to determine performance drivers and areas of improvement. Example: Compensation Benchmarking
Your employee handbook and offer letters should clearly state when, or if, an employee is eligible to participate in your company’s benefits program.
Benefits Waiting Period
This is the period of time an employee must be employed before enrolling in the company’s benefits program.
A bonus is a non-guaranteed payment given to employees outside of their regular pay.
Repeated, unwelcome behavior that is intended to harm someone, such as behavior meant to intimidate, humiliate, or offend an employee.
Developing processes, procedures, and activities in advance to help ensure that the organization can carry out essential functions during operational disruptions.
When an employer makes an employment-related decision that disproportionately impacts a particular group but is based on business needs. The employer must be able to prove that the action taken is job-related and consistent with business necessity.
An organization’s support toward an employee’s professional growth. May include skills development, mentoring, coaching, and other resources to help employees reach their career objectives.
The process of charting a career course that enables the employee to gradually progress within the organization. It involves identifying the employee’s skills, interests, and career goals plus determining how these attributes can help fulfill the organization’s current and future needs.
A contractual relationship between an employer and a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) in which the PEO shares certain employment responsibilities with the employer/client.
“Collective bargaining is the process in which working people, through their unions, negotiate contracts with their employers to determine their terms of employment, including pay, benefits, hours, leave, job health and safety policies, ways to balance work and family, and more.”
Commissions are a specified compensation structure typically defined by incentive plans. These plans are built to target paying employees a percentage of products sold to customers (often expressed in basis points – ‘.0001’).
Any individual who performs services for an employer who has the right to control what work will be done (by the individual) and how the work will be done.
The skills, knowledge, and skills needed to execute a certain task or role.
A contract between an employer and an employee barring or limiting the employee from disclosing confidential or proprietary information.
Strategies used to resolve disagreements or eliminate conflict in a way that is beneficial to those involved.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
“A management concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and interactions with their stakeholders.”
Defined by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization.
The direct and indirect costs associated with recruiting talent —e.g., advertisement costs, staffing agency fees, signing bonuses, relocation costs, HR overhead costs, background check costs, and training costs.
The process of training employees to perform more than a single job within the organization, enabling employers to develop a multi-skilled workforce.
The act of reassigning an employee to a lower position than they previously held. Demotions are often accompanied by a reduction in skill requirement, pay, or level of responsibility.
Department of Labor/Bureau of Labor and Industries (DOL/BOLI)
The department, whether federal or state, that oversees companies’ adherence to labor laws.
Under the ADA, direct threat is a significant risk or a substantial likelihood of harm to the health and safety to the employee or others — which cannot be alleviated or removed by reasonable accommodation.
“A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”
Defined by the ADA.
An employer’s response to an employee’s misconduct, poor performance, or rule-breaking. May include verbal and written warnings, performance improvement plan, suspension, demotion, or termination.
“Generally exists when an employer treats an applicant or employee less favorably merely because of a person’s race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, or status as a protected veteran. It may also occur if an employer disciplines, terminates, or takes unfavorable actions against an employee or job applicant for discussing, disclosing, or asking about pay.”
Defined by the United States Department of Labor (DOL).
Diversity and Inclusion (D&I)
Diversity refers to the individual differences (e.g., life experiences and personality types) and social differences (e.g., race, gender, and culture) that can be used to strengthen teamwork and the organization’s competitive position.
Inclusion is about meeting the needs of each employee and giving them room to thrive. In an inclusive workplace, employees feel valued, respected, and supported.
The process of terminating multiple employees simultaneously, due to their positions being eliminated or organizational restructuring.
A portion of an employee’s pay that is fronted against their monthly pay. This is typically used for commissioned employees against the amount of commission they are anticipated to earn in a given month.
The extent to which an employee is committed and emotionally connected to the organization.
An employee’s journey with the organization, including their experiences with their role, workspace, manager, and coworkers. .
A written document that provides employees with guidance and information on the employer’s mission, values, policies, procedures, and code of conduct.
Employee Relations (ER)
The management of activities surrounding employee relationships, including code of conduct and conflict resolution.
Employee Self-Service (ESS)
An online HR portal that allows employees to complete certain HR-related tasks instead of relying on the HR team. These tasks include enrolling in and managing benefits, retrieving pay stubs, and updating personal or tax information.
The federal, state, and local laws that specify the responsibilities of employers and the rights of employees.
Certain employers, including private businesses with at least 100 employees, must file an EEO-1 report annually with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The report includes workforce demographic data, including job categories, race/ethnicity, and sex.
Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO)
An employer’s commitment to fair treatment of employees in all aspects of employment, including hiring, promotion, and training — without regard to race, national origin, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or other protected class.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
Federal and state organizations focused on ensuring that all employees are treated fairly and have the same employment opportunities by preventing discriminatory practices.
The primary job duties that an employee must be able to carry out, with or without reasonable accommodation.
Employees who are excluded from minimum wage and/or overtime pay regulations. Exempt employees typically include salaried executive, administrative, and professional employees.
Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
A federal law that governs minimum wage, overtime, child labor, and recordkeeping rules and regulations for most U.S. workplaces.
Full-time Equivalent (FTE)
The number of hours an employee needs to work over a certain period of time to be considered full-time. What constitutes FTE hours may be determined by a specific statute (e.g., the Affordable Care Act).
When an employer places an employee on temporary, unpaid, and involuntary leave of absence, typically in response to an economic decline or government shutdown.
Gender Pay Gap
The average difference in earnings between men and women who work on a full-time or part-time basis.
General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
A data privacy regulation established by the European Union (EU) that strives to protect the personal data of EU residents. This includes data held by employers of EU residents.
Contingent workers, such as independent contractors and freelancers, who normally perform temporary work for multiple clients.
Most often used in executive compensation to tie valuable employees to the company. Usually expressed in stock options that vest over time. If the employee leaves before the stock’s vesting date, they lose the benefit.
Typically used when an executive is fired. This provides a financial benefit for the terminated employee to encourage an easy, drama-free transition.
A concern or complaint that an employee has about their work environment, working conditions, job duties, or a coworker.
A serious action taken by an employee, resulting in immediate dismissal — such as gross negligence, theft, or physical violence.
A program managed by the DOL which allows companies to request special work visas for nonimmigrant aliens who possess specific skills that cannot be fulfilled by American workers.
Unwelcome behavior that is based on a protected class, such as race, color, national origin, sex, older age, disability, religion, or genetic information. Harassment includes hostile, intimidating, or abusive conduct.
High-Potential Employee (HiPo)
An employee who has the ability, desire, and drive to elevate to (and thrive) in higher-level positions, typically management roles.
The process of collecting and applying HR data to enhance employee performance and business outcomes.
Human Capital Management (HCM)
An extensive set of practices and tools that employers use to recruit, manage, and develop employees. recently, HCM has been replaced with the more friendly term People Operations.
Human Resource Information System (HRIS)
Software that integrates human resources management and information technology.
Human Resource Management System (HRMS)
A suite of HR software applications that employers leverage to manage a range of HR activities, such as recruiting, hiring, compensation, benefits, and employee performance.
Employment form required by the federal government to prove citizenship and legal worker status.
Additional pay earned on top of a base salary based on attaining documented goals.
A self-employed individual. The contractor’s client (or the payer) has the right to control and direct only the result of the work — not what will be done or how it will be done.
An order from the court requiring someone to perform, or stop performing, a certain act. For example, an injunctive relief may require an employer to stop putting discriminatory questions on their job application.
Workplace insubordination occurs when an employee intentionally disobeys their employer’s legal and reasonable orders. Insubordination usually leads to disciplinary action.
The process of analyzing a job to understand:
- The duties and responsibilities involved
- How the job compares to other positions
- What qualifications are needed to capably execute the job
- The working conditions under which the job is performed
The process of assessing the scope, duties, responsibilities, and complexity of a job to determine the most appropriate rank and job title.
An overview of the function, duties, and responsibilities of a position and the required or preferred qualifications. The job description is provided to job applicants and employees.
When an employee is not content with their job because their expectations are not being met.
The process of comparing a job’s responsibilities against others in the company and the competitive market to determine the job’s market value.
A type of on-the-job training that lets an employee become more familiar with their role by following and observing another (more experienced) employee who actually does the job.
Key Performance Indicators
A measurable value that shows how well an organization is meeting its key business objectives.
Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs)
The knowledge, skills, and abilities that a person must have to perform the requirements of the role. KSAs are included in the job description.
A set of activities — e.g., team management, decision making, project management, and coaching — that help leaders perform better in their roles.
Learning Management System (LMS)
From a corporate standpoint, an LMS is software used to deliver online training and learning content to employees.
Using the information gathered during the job evaluation process to determine how comparable jobs are paid. Typically independently, published market studies are used for this process.
Also called “pay-for-performance,” merit pay is a salary increase or financial incentive given to employees who meet or exceed their performance goals.
Someone qualified to provide guidance to less-experienced employees and help them succeed in their roles.
Generally, a negative term that pertains to leaders who manage their employees via an excessive level of control and attention to minor details.
Making hiring decisions based on favoritism towards family members or friends.
New Hire Reporting
A mandatory process requiring all employers to report information on each new hire to a designated state agency shortly after the hire date.
An employee who is not exempt from minimum wage and overtime pay under the FLSA or state law.
The process of separating (or terminating) an employee from their position in the organization.
The process of acclimating a new hire to the organization and its culture, such as having them complete new hire paperwork and supplying them with tools needed to become productive employees.
The organization’s personality — meaning its values, philosophy, norms, expectations, and beliefs that help guide employee behavior.
Organizational Development (OD)
A segment of the HR department that focuses on the psychology of how effective organizations work. They help companies develop and implement systems to holistically move them toward their mission and vision.
The process of formally introducing new hires to the organization, such as giving them a tour of the facility, outlining safety measures and rules, and introducing them to their coworkers.
OSHA Recordkeeping and Reporting
Many employers with 10 or more employees must keep records of serious job-related illnesses and injuries. Applicable employers must also report work-related fatalities and severe injuries to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The practice of handing over certain job functions or business services to a third party, such as recruiting, benefits administration, or payroll.
Someone who is currently employed and is not actively seeking a new job — but may consider a promising new job opportunity if approached.
When tenured employees earn less than new hires in the same position, or when direct reports earn more or nearly the same as their managers.
An organizational function that puts people first. The focus is on employee development, engagement, and retention.
A periodic evaluation of an employee’s job performance, which is measured against a predefined set of goals and expectations.
Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)
A document designed to help employees improve their job performance. It includes areas of performance deficiencies. expectations for improvement, and a timeline for meeting objectives.
Professional Employer Organization (PEO)
An outsourced organization hired to complete processes (often HR) instead of companies ultimately building those processes in-house.
A period of time during which a company and a new hire spend time to decide if the company and the job are a good fit for both.
A documented process whereby employees share a portion of the company’s annual profits via a cash bonus or stock grants.
Under the ADA, “a reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things are usually done during the hiring process.”
Definition by the DOL.
A resident alien is someone who either has a government-approved green card or has met the defined substantial presence test.
Retaliation is when an employer takes an adverse action (such as demotion, discipline, or firing) against an employee for exercising their rights under employment laws.
Organizational techniques and policies aimed at improving job satisfaction and motivating employees to stay with the organization.
The process of reorganizing or restructuring the organization to increase profits more effectively, such as by implementing cost-cutting measures or rearranging senior management.
The process of determining the particular risks facing an organization and developing policies and procedures for mitigating (or minimizing the impact of) those risks.
Salary ranges are built based on how the market pays a group of similarly-skilled jobs.
Usually, pay offered to employees whose job duties are no longer needed by the company. It may also be used when a group of like-dutied employees is laid off due to a reduction in the workforce (RIF).
A mismatch between the skills needed for a position and the skills the job seeker or employee actually possesses. This discrepancy makes it hard for employers to find the right fit and for individuals to find or keep jobs.
The process of searching for, identifying, and contacting the most suitable candidates for a position.
The process of finding, recruiting, hiring, and deploying the best person for the role plus filling staffing gaps according to the organization’s needs.
An independent contractor who is treated as an employee for Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) purposes and as an independent contractor for federal income tax purposes.
A future-focused strategy for identifying critical positions within the organization and developing talent to fill key roles as needed.
When an employer temporarily prohibits an employee from coming to work and from performing any work. Suspension is usually used as a disciplinary measure. The employee can be suspended with or without pay.
The process of identifying the organization’s long-term staffing needs and attracting, interviewing, and selecting the most qualified people.
The process of attracting and selecting job candidates and retaining employees. This involves a myriad of HR processes, including workforce planning, recruitment, learning and development, employee engagement, performance management, and succession planning.
Material rewards that can easily be assigned a monetary value and are given to employees to thank them for their contributions. Examples include gift cards, gym membership, food basket, cash bonus, and merchandise.
An interview technique used to ask all candidates for the same position identical questions making it easier to evaluate the best candidate for the job.
Tax Identification Number (TIN)
While SSNs (individual social security numbers) are issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA), company TINs are issued by the IRS (Internal Revenue Service).
Time to Fill
The number of days from a job opening is posted to when a candidate is hired.
Time to Hire
The number of days from when an employer contacts a job applicant to when the applicant is hired.
Encompasses all of an employee’s compensation. Comprises not just salary but also benefits, recognition, incentives, development, and well-being perks.
Training and Development (T&D)
Learning programs that help employees sharpen their knowledge, grow their skills, increase their productivity, and advance in their careers.
The number of employees who leave the organization, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, and are replaced.
A form submitted to the IRS to disclose an individual’s annual earnings and tax deductions.
A form completed when an employee starts working for a company to define the employee’s accurate tax withholding status.
A person who reports workplace conditions that they believe are unlawful or unsafe. It is illegal to retaliate against a whistleblower for reporting their safety concerns or any other protected activity.
A state of equilibrium in which a person is able to properly balance the demands of their professional life with the demands of their personal life.
“A mutually beneficial arrangement between employees and employers in which both parties agree on when, where, and how the employee will work to meet the organization’s needs.”
Defined by the Society for Human Resource Management.
A type of insurance that provides lost wages, reimbursement of medical expenses, and other benefits to employees who are injured on the job.
The process of analyzing the organization’s workforce, forecasting workforce supply and demand, and determining what must be done to meet future staffing needs.
A personal relationship of an intimate nature. “personal relationship” is defined as a relationship between individuals who have or have had a continuing relationship of a romantic or intimate nature. Also known as Office Romances
Under the FLSA, a workweek is a fixed, regularly recurring period of 168 hours or 7 consecutive 24-hour periods. A workweek can start on any day of the week and at any time of the day.
Wrongful termination occurs when an employer fires an employee for an illegal reason.