Written by Avvo Staff

Commonly used terms in employment law

Employment law is a collection of federal and state regulations and statutes governing the employer/employee relationship. Many of these laws were enacted to protect the rights of workers. Here's a list of terms commonly used in employment law.

Accessible: Refers to making it possible for disabled persons to easily enter a building, operate equipment or otherwise perform their job functions independently. Affirmative action: Taking steps to increase employment of certain groups of people.

Back pay: Damages awarded to restore the money an employee would have earned had the employer not acted illegally. Usually awarded after a wrongful termination suit or an unlawful denial of promotion.

Cafeteria plan: A type of benefit plan in which employers provide a “menu" of available benefits from which employees may create their own package, usually up to a predetermined dollar amount.

Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA): A federal law requiring most employers to give employees the option to continue their group health coverage after leaving or losing a job.

Collective bargaining: A discussion between an employer and the union representing its workers. The talks lead to formation of a collective bargaining agreement, which is a contract between the employer and union members detailing the terms of the relationship, including wages, hours and conditions under which the contract can be broken.

Disability/Disabled: Refers to impairments, either physical or mental, that limit major life activities such as seeing or walking.

Discrimination: Unfair treatment of or action taken against a person based solely on arbitrary criteria, such as age, race, religion or gender.

Employment at will doctrine: The concept that, absent a contract, either side in the employer/employee relationship may end the relationship at any time and for any reason.

Equal employment opportunity: The right to not face discrimination in hiring, firing or any other terms of employment due to arbitrary criteria like sex, age, race or disability.

Equal Pay Act: A federal law that prohibits paying different wages for the same job based on gender.

Family Medical Leave Act: A federal law requiring most employers to allow employees to take unpaid leave for certain family or medical reasons.

Hostile working environment: A work environment that interferes with the ability of employees to perform their jobs effectively. Often caused by persistent unwanted behavior, such as sexual harassment.

Implied contract: An unwritten agreement that is implicitly understood due to the actions or words of the other party. An implied contract is legally enforceable.

Minimum wage: A pay rate, set by law, that is the lowest amount most employers are allowed to pay their employees.

Mitigation: Actions taken by an employee who was the victim of illegal employment practices that may reduce the amount of damages awarded.

Noncompetition agreement: A contract in which an employee agrees not to engage in any activities that would compete with the employer for a specified time. This includes both accepting employment with a competitor or setting up a new business that would be in direct competition.

Pension: A retirement plan that pays, for life, a set monthly amount to a worker after retirement.

Reduction in force: An employer’s plan to cut its workforce.

Retaliation: Actions taken by an employer to punish workers who seek protection under employment laws.

Right to work doctrine: State laws barring the requirement of union membership as a condition of employment.

Severance package: An agreement detailing any additional pay and benefits an employee will receive upon leaving the company.

Sexual harassment: Offensive and unwanted conduct towards a worker based on the worker’s gender.

Tuition reimbursement: A benefit offered by some employers in which the employer pays some or all of an employee’s tuition for continuing education.

Termination: The ending of a worker’s employment with a company. It may be voluntary or involuntary.

Whistle blowing: The reporting of an employer’s illegal actions to the proper authorities by an employee.

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