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With the ongoing covid pandemic, I expect we'll see an increase in questions around the topic of losing one's job. As such, I wanted to clarify the meaning of these three commonly used words.

The way I understand it is:

Fired: "You are unable to perform at the level we expect." and/or "You committed a serious violation of company policy."

Laid off: "Due to the current economic situation, we are being forced to downsize and cannot afford to keep you."

Redundant: "Due to changes in our business, we no longer require your services."

With the understanding that every situation is different and there is always some degree of nuance/overlap, are these descriptions more or less accurate?

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    In the US, in cases I have experienced, the term "Redundant" has not been used. "Laid off" was used whenever groups of people were "let go" without regard to the underlying reason. I'm not sure I see the point of trying to list a generalized distinction between these three terms anyway. Without knowing the specifics of the situation, why would it matter? – Joe Strazzere Aug 2 at 10:46
  • Mostly I just wanted clarification on the meaning of redundant since I’ve never heard it used outside of here either. To me it sounds like “we’ve found a more efficient way to do the work that you did,” rather than “we’re going to make your coworker do your job in addition to his own so we don’t have to pay both of you.” – AffableAmbler Aug 2 at 17:23
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    I see we've talked about this before, we even rearranged the tags for that purpose: Tag Merge - redundancy to layoff or both to termination – DarkCygnus Aug 3 at 4:19
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    @DarkCygnus Yeah, main conclusion was to have the two main concepts: fired (termination tag) and layoff. Anything else is typically just a different way to say one of those two. @ OP: the difference between those two is also covered by this main site question – Lilienthal Aug 3 at 22:27
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    Redundant is British English for laid off. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Aug 5 at 13:08
  • Types of Separation from Employment - This might be helpful. I've also noticed a lot of the tags for these have no usage guidance or wiki info. It might help for those to get filled in. – BSMP Sep 23 at 0:09
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I see Laid off/redundant as the same thing. They no longer need somebody in your position based on their current environment. The performance of the worker wasn't used to terminate the relationship.

A person who is fired has under-performed, or committed a violation.

Then of course the employee can quit.

In situations where there are contracts with an end date how the relationship ends is up for debate.

Once the relationship ends, or even when the end date is set, the reason why triggers certain benefits, regulations, and the like; all of which are nationally or locally defined.

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  • "The performance of the worker wasn't used to terminate the relationship." - even in layoffs, the performance of the worker is used as at least part of the criteria. It might be better stated that the performance of the worker wasn't solely used... – Joe Strazzere Aug 2 at 18:37
  • @JoeStrazzere everywhere I have seen it used it's not legally allowed to be about the individuals performance, it's specific to the position/role no longer being required. – Kilisi Aug 2 at 23:19
  • @Kilisi - having been on both sides of the layoff equation, I can say with certainty that in the US, in companies where I worked, individual performance was always considered when the cut list was created. – Joe Strazzere Aug 2 at 23:38
  • @JoeStrazzere I've never seen it, when they got computers and printers typing pools were made redundant, individual performance made no difference.... there was no longer a need for typists. The role was a consideration, not the person. But like anything in life it's individuals deciding which roles are redundant and which aren't. Illegal though. – Kilisi Aug 3 at 2:19
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    @Kilisi - in my personal experience, companies decided that x% of the workforce must be cut, not specific roles. So if 20% of R&D is trimmed, 80% remains. And management gets together and decide who goes and who remains. I've personally been part of the decision-making team - not a fun task. – Joe Strazzere Aug 3 at 10:35
  • @JoeStrazzere if you're in a union shop, employee performance is irrelevant, they go by seniority. -Former union thug\ – Old_Lamplighter Aug 3 at 11:29
  • @Old_Lamplighter yes, the company would be eaten alive. For a 20% reduction, they might go as far as asking people to volunteer for redundancy and paying them a big incentive to do so. But any indication that it's over performance or anything to do with the individual is a clear breach of the regulations. – Kilisi Aug 3 at 11:48
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    @Kilisi This is why I will never work for a union shop again if I can help it. Unions, at least in the USA, do more harm than good – Old_Lamplighter Aug 3 at 11:56
  • @Old_Lamplighter it's all in the perception. If you're on the employers side then they suck. If you're on the workers side, they can be helpful when the chips are down. If you're on the unions side then they're great. I've mostly been on my own side doing my own thuggery :) – Kilisi Aug 3 at 12:02
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    @Kilisi I got screwed hard by my own union TWICE, first, let go because of seniority, then blocked from returning as a consultant, because they had that damn clause too. I hate them. – Old_Lamplighter Aug 3 at 12:07
  • If you think that the definitions given don't work for unions then make your own answer. – mhoran_psprep Aug 3 at 12:16
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    @Old_Lamplighter - if you are in a union shop, everything but the union contract is irrelevant. It may or may not be by seniority (but usually is). I never was in a union. – Joe Strazzere Aug 3 at 14:34
  • @JoeStrazzere Yep,I was under the CWA, or as we called them, the Criminals With Authority, under The Independent Association of Publishers' Employees (IAPE) worst union ever – Old_Lamplighter Aug 3 at 14:55
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We already have a question like this on the main site: What is the difference between being fired and being laid off?

I think the other answers are right, but since a lot of the details depend on local labor laws (and quite frankly the US does not have any to speak of, so it's easy to confuse terms that have no practical difference in at-will states) I would like to boil it down to the abstract minimum that all countries would agree on:

Being Fired/Terminated is a result of the company parting with the specific employee for any reason. The job is still there and needs to be done, the company will hire another individual as soon as possible in the hopes that this other individual will do the job more in line with the expectations.

Being laid off/made redundant is the result of the company changing company structure for any reason. They remove the job and as collateral damage the person that did the job has no more job to do. The company will not hire a replacement, since not having the job any more was the whole point.

In many countries, this is reflected in their labor laws.

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