Garden leave: “Suspension from work on full pay for the duration of a notice period, typically to prevent an employee from having any further influence on the organization or from acting to benefit a competitor before leaving.” (O.E.D.) A British euphemism (also seen in Canada, according to my source1), truncated from gardening leave.
The UK law firm Laytons Solicitors uses both garden leave and gardening leave in a detailed definition on its employment-law Web page:
“Garden leave” is the term given to a situation whereby an employee is required to serve out a period of notice at home (or “in the garden”). During this period the employee continues to receive all salary and benefits but is prohibited from commencing employment with new employers until the gardening leave period has expired. It is a practice which employers often adopt with employees who have a certain status whereby they have access to confidential information or customers and where they are leaving to join a competitor. During the gardening leave period the employee’s access to such information or customers is either restricted or denied.
According to the O.E.D., “gardening leave” first appeared in print in 1985, in a Daily Telegraph article:
Then he had a spell of what he described as ‘*gardening leave’, Civil Service jargon for a paid leave while a job could be found for him.
In 2006, the Telegraph reported reported that the Home Office had paid a junior civil servant £100,000 “to stay at home for five years after she complained of racism within the organisation.”
I’ve been in exile from Cubicle Nation for too long to be an authority, but it seems to me there’s no exact US equivalent for garden leave. The closest synonym I’ve found is Rubber Room, the common term for a “Temporary Assignment Center” where New York State teachers who have been accused of misconduct or incompetence are sent. There, according to a 2009 New Yorker article, “they punch a time clock for the same hours that they would have kept at school—typically, eight-fifteen to three-fifteen,” drawing full salaries and accruing pensions while doing “pretty much nothing at all.” But that’s not quite the same as garden leave, which generally sets a time limit.
In his new book Euphemania: Our Love Affair with Euphemisms2 Ralph Keyes devotes two pages to the language of US workplace firings:
Discharging employees is one of the leading occasions for euphemistic discourse in the workplace. No one is fired, of course, or sacked, though they might be furloughed (or, more likely, placed on indefinite furlough). Discharged employees were part of a staff reduction, a recalibration of personnel, or a redeployment of resources. Alternatively, they might be deaccessioned, decommissioned, dehired, discontinued, outplaced, separated, terminated, unassigned, made redundant, or, in the latest cirumlocution, decruited. Employees at a big bank in New York talk of being escessed. (“Jake got excessed last week due to a re-org.”) Counterparts in a Silicon Valley company worry about being surplussed. The voicemail of a dismissed computer company executive there told callers he’d been uninstalled.
For a discussion of a UK expression describing a voluntary leave of absence (known over here as a “mental health day,” see my 2008 post on duvet day.
1 Hat tip: Marjanne Pearson.
2 Excellent and recommended! I’ll have more to say about Euphemania in a future post.