'Laid Off' Might Just Mean 'Fired'
Byline: ON THE JOB by Bureau of Labor and Industries For The Register-Guard
Question: I have an employee who is trying hard, but just not working up to our standards. I know I need to terminate him, but he's a nice guy and I don't want to hurt his feelings. Is there any problem with my just telling him he is "laid off?"
Answer: There could be. In one sense, there's not much difference between the two terms, and whether an employer uses "laid off" or "fired" to describe the employment action can be just a matter of semantics. However, your choice of words may very much affect how the employee views his chances of being "recalled" to work at some future point.
Of course, a "firing" or "termination" usually has a worse connotation, and it typically means the action is permanent. And while the employee's feelings may be hurt, there's little chance that he wouldn't realize that you are not planning to call him back.
But if you tell the employee that you are "laying him off," he may believe your actions are based on restructuring, a reduction in force or simply a lack of work, and it may or may not have anything to do with the employee's job performance or productivity.
Employers sometimes take the "easy way out" and label a separation a "layoff" when they are really terminating an employee for poor performance. They may do this to avoid confrontation, documentation, discipline and hurt feelings. Oregon is an employment-at-will state, so at-will employers who use this strategy aren't necessarily breaking the law.
Still, it's a risky approach that may be a recipe for a lawsuit, because the so-called layoff gives the impression that the employee will be returning when the economy recovers or when revenues rise. In fact, the employer may have no intention of ever reinstating the person. When this "laid-off" worker - who was never counseled about performance issues - learns that a replacement worker has taken his place, he quickly figures out that he was fired, and he may conclude that the employer had a discriminatory motive. …