Human Resources Definition and most commonly used Terms


human resources

English Human Resources Vocabulary

  1. HR and recruitment processes
  2. Salary related vocabulary
  3. Taking time off work (holidays and sickness)
  4. Phrasal verbs related to work
  5. Working hours
  6. Describe different roles
  7. Contract types and related phrases

What happens in the Human Resources (HR) department in a workplace, and does it have anything to do with me? The answer is ‘EVERYTHING related to the employees’ and YES!

The Human Resources team are very important to the employer and employees of a company because they process and control everything from interviews, employment contracts, new staff packages, salary negotiation, payment queries or issues, problems with colleagues, promotion, maternity/paternity packages, to staff dismissal, pension funds, retirement packages and contract termination!

With that in mind, I hope you can see how they play a very important role in making sure that the boss and staff are happy, and that everything runs smoothly from the moment someone applies for a job, until they leave the company. So, be nice to the HR team!

Most companies will have a human resources team that handles all of these important tasks, even small businesses would have at least one person who would deal with HR processes. Thus, it is inevitable that at some point in your working life you will encounter a HR team and would need to communicate with them about various timely processes or any issues you may have.

I have gathered a bank of useful vocabulary and phrases that may come in handy for you in different situations. Whether you work in a human resources team yourself or need to contact them, this list should be all you need to help you find the words!

Please note some words may differ in American English (AmE) and British English (BrE). Where possible, I have listed the differences

1. HR and recruitment processes

Applicant / Candidate
the person who applies for a job they are interested in.

  • We’ve had so many applicants for this role and they’re all highly qualified!

Back pay
money owed to you for work done in the past, which you haven’t been paid for yet.

  • We will back pay you for the last two months.

Disciplinary action
when an employer takes action against an employee who disobeys orders or acts outside of the contractual agreement.

  • I had to take disciplinary action against Matthew because he still did what I told him he wasn’t allowed to do.

the skills and knowledge a person gains from working in any field of expertise.

  • Even though you don’t have many qualifications, your outstanding amount of experience definitely qualifies you for this job.

Fire / Sack
to dismiss someone from their job (terminate their contract).

  • I might get fired/sacked if I don’t do my job properly.
    (slang term – get the sack/given the sack)
  • Marcus got/was given the sack yesterday!
    (Similar to ‘let someone go’ – informal)
  • We had to let John go because of the problems he caused.

Hire / Recruit
to employ someone.

  • I’ve hired/recruited a new assistant for 6 months.

Hand in / Give in your notice
tell your employer you will leave soon.

  • She gave in her notice last week, so she’ll be leaving at the end of the month.
    If a company gives someone notice, they are telling an employee that they will lose their job soon.
  • They’ve given Jenny her 1 month’s notice, but she doesn’t have to work it if she doesn’t want to so I don’t think she’ll come back next week.

Job description
this details all the duties and responsibilities a prospective employee would be expected to do if they accept a job offer.

  • These tasks were not in my job description when I first applied!

Make someone redundant
to end someone’s contract because of financial (economical) difficulties.

  • We had to make 700 people redundant after the markets crashed.
    (Similar to ‘lay someone off’ – “They laid off half of all their employees during the recession.”)

Net pay
the amount that you earn after any deductions have been made from your salary (such as income tax, VAT, pension contributions or social security purposes).

  • My net pay is not as much as I thought it would be… So many deductions have been made and now there’s less than half of it left for me!

Pay / Wage / Salary
the money you receive from your employer based on the work you do.

  • My pay at the end of this month will be less than usual because I had so many days off.

Pay cut
a decrease in the money you receive from your employer.

  • She had to take a big pay cut when she changed from full-time to part-time.

Pay rate
the amount agreed between you and your employer, that you will get paid per hour/day/week/month/annum.

  • My last pay rate was £17.50 per hour based on an 8 hour day, but I had a pay review with my boss last week and my pay rate is now £350 per day, because sometimes I work really long days.

Pay rise
an increase in the money you receive from your employer.

  • I’m going to ask my boss if I can get a pay rise for all the extra work I’m doing.

Pay scale
range of different pay rates, which people receive depending on various factors, such as level in the company, the length of time worked, qualifications and performance.

  • Our pay scale varies from minimum wage to a six-figure salary. It all depends on you and how much you want to achieve.

Performance-related pay
the amount of money you are paid that is increased or decreased monthly, depending on the quality and/or quantity of your work (mainly used in sales companies)

  • Your performance-related pay will increase the more you achieve and the more products you sell, so get out there and do your best!

Probationary period / Trial period
this is a fixed amount of time at the start of a new job where the employer and new employee have time to decide if the job or worker is definitely right for them or not.

  • I don’t think you should stay on after your trial period, it doesn’t sound like the job is what you wanted to do.

your academic credentials or educational endeavours that qualify you for the work you want to do.

  • She has all the right qualifications for a well-paid job but she just doesn’t try hard enough to find anything!

Salary advance / Advance
to request that you be paid before the work has been completed or before the originally agreed pay date.

  • John was struggling to pay his bills last month, so he had to ask his boss for an advance.

Severance Pay (AmE) / Redundancy Pay (BrE)
money paid to workers when the company can no longer afford to keep them employed.

  • I only received 7 weeks’ redundancy pay after working with them for 5 years!

Unfair dismissal
the belief that an employee was dismissed from work for no good reason. This is sometimes followed by legal action against the employer.

  • Today, the court will be hearing three cases of unfair dismissal by the same employer.

a role that needs to be filled with a new employee. A vacancy must be advertised in order to attract applicants.

  • Sarah, please post the new vacancies on the Jobs board. We need to fill those positions as quickly as possible.

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2. Salary-related vocabulary

Basic state pension
the money paid by the government when an employee, who had been paying pension contributions in every year of employment, reaches retirement age.

  • I will start receiving my basic state pension payments on a monthly basis after I turn 65 later this year.

an extra sum of money paid to employees as a reward, on top of their original salary.

  • Everyone in my team got a big bonus last month for doing so well in the previous quarter!

the amount paid to employees in a sales team based on how much of the advertised product has been sold.

  • I get paid minimum wage as my salary and everything on top is based on commission, so I have to work really hard to sell a lot if I want to get paid well!

Competitive salary
a pay rate that is very attractive (good) for qualified professionals and not offered by every employer.

  • I only accepted this job because the salary here is a very competitive rate and the best package I could find!

payments made by the employer on an employee’s behalf, from the employee’s gross salary. Usually including tax, national insurance contributions (in the UK), pensions scheme and any other health schemes the employee has opted in for.

  • After deductions, I still take home a pretty decent wage. (Pretty decent = very good)

the costs that you incur whilst doing your job, which the company may sometimes reimburse you for, such as travel (petrol/gasoline, mileage, public transport), external services (phone bills, dinner meetings etc).

  • I’ve submitted my invoice for last month and have included all my travel expenses there too. Who should I give the receipts to?

Gross salary
the salary amount before any deductions have been made for tax or pensions.

  • My gross salary is fantastic, but unfortunately I only get to take home around half of it.

Income tax
is the tax paid to your government on the money you earn.

  • Self-employed workers have to complete an annual income tax return form and arrange for their own income tax to be paid.

National minimum wage
the minimum amount that an employer must pay to his employees by law.

  • The national minimum wage in the UK has recently been increased to £7.20 per hour.

Net salary
the salary amount you are paid after deductions have been made.

  • I get paid £45,000 net per year.

Salary package
the benefits that an employee receives when they start a new contract.

  • I don’t know anyone with a salary package as great as yours! A high wage, lots of holiday allowance, an attractive pension scheme and the fun team events is a bonus!

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3. Taking time off work (Holidays and sickness)

Holiday allowance
the time that you are entitled to take off throughout a year to relax away from work.

  • How much holiday would I be allowed to take if I accepted your offer for this role?

Incapacity benefit (in EU only)
a financial benefit which can be claimed from the government to replace your salary, if you are no longer able to work due to illness.

  • I had a serious accident with the machinery at work last year and now I have to claim incapacity benefit to support me because I cannot work.

Maternity leave
when a woman is due to have a baby, she can take some time off work to prepare for the baby’s birth and to recover for a while afterwards. She is also entitled to maternity pay during this time.

  • Miranda will be going on maternity leave from next week, please ask the HR team to process the maternity pay package for her.

Occupational sick pay
an amount more than the basic statutory sick pay that an employer might pay depending on the terms of your contract.

  • You can claim for occupational sick pay for the first three weeks only. After that, it will be reduced to basic statutory sick pay only.

Paternity leave
a soon-to-be father is also entitled to take some time off work to be with his partner and new baby. He may also be entitled to paternity pay depending on where he works.

  • My wife is due to give birth next month, we’re all so excited! I will go on paternity leave from tomorrow and I’ll be getting paid during that time too, which is really helpful for us.

Public holidays / Bank holiday
national holidays that everyone will have off work.

  • Next Monday is a public holiday, so we get a long weekend!

to take a long period of time away from work, especially to study or travel. Generally for at least a year and still receiving salary.

  • I have decided to take a sabbatical from work and travel the world for 18 months.

Sick leave
the time taken off work due to illness.

  • Zara has been on sick leave for over a month now. I hope she feels better soon.

Sick note
the note a medical professional gives you to hand to your employer, in order to claim sick pay.

  • Sorry Maria, I cannot process your claim until you bring a sick note from your doctor.

Statutory sick pay
a sum of money you can claim from your employer, if you are unwell and not able to work.

  • I was ill with a severe virus for 6 weeks so I couldn’t work but I still claimed statutory sick pay.

Sign someone off
a doctor or other medical professional must provide a note to prove you are genuinely unable to work, before statutory sick pay can be claimed.

  • His doctor signed him off as sick for 3 months! It must be a very serious injury.

Take time off / Take a day off
to have some planned days relaxing and not working.

  • I’m thinking of taking some time off during the summer and going on a sailing trip.

Unauthorised absence
taking a day off work without permission from your boss or against your boss’ will.

  • I told her she’s not allowed to take the day off today but she hasn’t turned up for work, this will have serious consequences for her, as we will need to take disciplinary action.

Unpaid leave
taking an authorised absence from work but without receiving salary.

  • I need to take three days off work, so I’m happy to take it as unpaid leave.

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4. Phrasal verbs related to work

Apply for
you apply for a job with a company that you want to work for.

  • I’ve applied for a job with Airbus! I submitted my application yesterday; it took me such a long time… I hope I get called in for an interview!

Give up / Resign from
to leave a job because you don’t want to do it anymore.

  • I’ve decided to give up this career in law and start my own restaurant business!
  • He resigned from his job last year to become a full-time dad!

Hold down
to keep your job and not leave, even if you are faced with problems.

  • Many people gave up during the crisis, but I didn’t. I held down my job until the very end.

Hunt for (job hunting)
to look for new employment; try to find a suitable job.

  • I’ve been hunting for a job in the fashion industry for a while, it’s really difficult to find something I like!

Out of
when you’re out of a job/out of work, you don’t have any work to do. If you are put out of a job, it means you were fired or made redundant.

  • How long have you been out of a job for?”
  • I was put out of my job by that horrible new manager! It’s been 2 months now and I still haven’t found anything else.

Sacked from / Fired from
when someone is dismissed from work for disciplinary reasons.

  • I got sacked from Tesco because they didn’t agree with my style of team management.

Take up
to start something new. This could be a new job, new career, even a new hobby or interest.

  • I’ve decided to take up art classes. It’ll help me to find inspiration for my magazine work.

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5. Working hours

Cover shift
when another employee offers to help you by working your shift if you can’t do it.

  • I’m only working a cover shift for Jane tonight; I don’t normally work on Wednesday evenings.
    Similar to fill in for someone
  • I don’t normally work evening shifts, I’m just filling in for Sam tonight.

Flexitime / Flexible working hours
a system where you can arrange with your employer to start and finish at different times each day, as long as you work the required number of hours each week.

  • I like that I can work flexitime at my new job, it means I can pick up my children from school myself.

working a full week. This generally means starting between 7-9 in the morning and finishing between 4-9 in the evening, from Monday to Friday.

  • I work full-time in the office and I have a separate weekend job too.

Night shift (also known as the graveyard shift)
working an allotted time during unsocial hours such as after 9pm and before 5am.

  • I’ll be doing the nightshift every evening this week, so I have to try and get some sleep during the daytime.

when you work more than your required number of hours and get paid extra, sometimes at a higher rate of pay for working more than the usual hours or unsocial hours (late evenings and weekends).

  • I have done quite a lot of overtime this month, so I should get paid quite well.

working part of a week. This could be anything that you have arranged with your manager, from working 2-3 full days a week only to working half days Monday to Friday.

  • After I returned to work, I decided to go part-time only so I could make more time for my family.

Rota (BrE) / Roster (AmE)
a list of who is working and when they are on duty.

  • Have you checked the rota for next week? I have added your name to a few extra shifts.

an allocated time slot when someone is supposed to be working.

  • I can’t do my shift tonight because I have to go to the hospital. Could you cover for me please?

Take a break / Go on a break / Break time
stopping for a short time during a work shift to relax.

  • Right, I need to go on a break and refresh my mind. See you in 15 minutes.

a form that temporary employees generally need to complete each week to show how many hours they have worked.

  • Please don’t forget to complete your timesheet at the end of each week otherwise we won’t be able to pay you!

To be punctual / Punctuality
to be on time for work all the time, never late.

  • James, you need to try and be more punctual otherwise this could affect your chances of being promoted.

To clock in / clock out
to record the time you start and finish your shift in a machine provided.

  • I forgot to clock in yesterday morning so on the machine it looks like I wasn’t at work, but I was!

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6. Describing different roles

an interesting job that may take up all your time and attention.

  • She has an incredibly absorbing job but seems to be enjoying it. We rarely see her out in the evenings since she started working there.

Badly paid (opposite of well paid)
a job that doesn’t offer an attractive salary package, where the wages are below average.

  • It’s a very rewarding job and I love working there. It’s just a shame that it is so badly paid.

Blossoming / Flourishing
a person, career or role that started out very basic or unskilled and progressed to intrinsic or highly skilled.

  • Jena has been a blossoming employee from the very first day she started with us. I’m proud to see what she has achieved today.

an uninteresting job

  • My job is really well paid but everything about it is utterly boring.

work that is not fixed nor regular.

  • We are looking for energetic people to fill some casual vacancies over the Christmas period.

a very difficult job that tests a person’s ability.

  • This is quite a challenging role and I don’t think I’m skilled enough for it.

an interesting or exciting career opportunity with a lot of variety to offer.

  • With such a colourful job, I just never get bored of going to work. Every day is completely different from the last!

a job with no hopes of promotion or advancement.

  • I’ve been stuck in this dead-end job for 3 years now; I don’t want to be here anymore.

work that requires a lot of effort from the person doing it.

  • This is a demanding role and would suit a dedicated professional who does not have any family commitments.

a career, person or role that is respected highly for its/their quality and standard.

  • He has led a distinguished career for most of his life and is now planning to retire early.

a job that requires a lot of care, effort and attention.

  • Being a professional seamstress can be quite an exacting job.

a job where you are expected to work at least the full average working week.

  • I’m looking for full-time jobs only at the moment.

a career that gets admiration from others.

  • I am in awe of Gerald, he has had a glittering career since his teenage years; I hope I can do the same.

Has its ups and downs
a job that has good and bad moments.

  • Well, it has its ups and downs but in general, I do enjoy working here.

a job that doesn’t require much skill and has low social value.

  • I deserve more than just a menial position because I have so much work experience!

a career, person or job role that has a significant part to play in success yet has no notable achievements.

  • Jessie had led quite a modest career most of her life. They wouldn’t have achieved so much without her but no one really notices the work she does in the background.

a job where you only work half or a part of the working week.

  • I’m going to work part-time only after I have my baby.

a job that puts the person doing it, in a position of respect.

  • Ever since Jo accepted that prestigious job offer, she’s been getting noticed a lot more!

a career, person or job role that promises great success in the future.

  • This is quite a promising job. I’m excited about how much we can achieve over the next five years!

a job where you don’t have any worries about being made redundant or getting fired.

  • You don’t have to worry about getting laid off. You have such a secure job, they’ll never get rid of you!

a job that you are able to keep for a very long period of time.

  • You’ve been in and out of jobs constantly for the last two years! You need to try and have just one stable job…

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7. Contract types and related phrases

a contract that binds the parties who sign it, into the agreement. It cannot be legally avoided or stopped.

  • The contract is dated from last week, since then we have been legally bound to do what was agreed until the end date.

a contract which prevents the person who signed it from signing another contract with anyone else in that period.

  • We have an exclusive contract with this band, so you cannot work with them until the contract expires.

In breach of
when one party involved in a contract does something against the agreed terms.

  • What you did is in breach of your contract and I’m afraid we will need to take legal action.

a contract that is ongoing indefinitely, until either of the signed parties decides to end it, for which they usually have to give notice.

  • I have been offered a permanent contract, which means I’ll be able to stay and work here for as long as I want to!

a contract that has the flexibility of being renewed or extended from its end date.

  • It’s good to know that I have a renewable contract. If I do my job well, they might keep me for another year!

a contract that only lasts for a short period of time, usually up to 6 months or less.

  • We can only offer you a temporary contract at the moment, if you’re still interested.

the specific conditions within the contract that were agreed by all parties involved.

  • Under the terms of your contract, you have to follow my orders.

To do draw up
to print a new contract that has not yet been read, signed or agreed by the parties involved.

  • I’m going to draw up a new version of the contract because some of the terms have changed.

To go through
to read and decide whether you agree with all the conditions in the contract, before signing it.

  • Please take your time and go through the contract carefully. Let me know if you have any questions about the terms.

a contract that is currently active and has legal force.

  • I have a valid contract until the end of next month, so you cannot move me until this contract expires.

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Aniket Vichare
6 years ago

These are awesome terms which I believe every HR professional would use in his/her life. So before they enrol for a course in HR they should look up your blog, read it thoroughly and note down the terms you have mentioned here because they are going to be used quite often by them.

Reply to  Aniket Vichare
6 years ago

Thank you!

1 year ago

Human Resources (HR) is the business function tasked with overseeing all employee-related processes, including hiring, evaluation, career development, compensation, and benefits administration. I’m really enjoying reading this blog. That’s encouraging.