Seniority refers to a person’s experience and is often calculated based on time. It can have a significant impact on one’s salary and notice period, but is also used in other contexts.

The term seniority covers a person’s work experience and is typically based on the amount of years. It is, for instance, used in employment law, where seniority can determine the establishment of specific provisions regarding the employment. The Fair Labor Standards Act, for example, describes a set of rules regarding notice period in relation to the length of employment. 

However, seniority is primarily used as a criterion for employment in the public sector. That is to say, on a state-, regional and municipal level. Here, the salary indicated on the paycheck is typically tied to seniority. Contrary to this, most of the private sector places more value on merit, meaning one’s skills or what has been accomplished with regard to one’s employment. Courses and training can impact on one’s seniority as well.

What does seniority mean?

Seniority dates back to the Medieval Latin word senioritas, which means “priority on office or service”. It can be used with regard to the amount of time one has been employed, held a special position or been a member of something - e.g. a housing association. After many years of membership in one’s housing association, one could potentially have priority to buy an apartment that is put up for sale.

It is typically used as a structure or framework for salaries in conjunction with legal questions regarding employment. That is to say, that the longer you have worked at one place, the higher your salary. It can also play a role in the insurance sector. For instance, the number of years one has owned a driver’s license can impact one’s insurance.

Seniority and employment contracts

Seniority can have great influence on how an employment contract is formed. In the public sector, seniority determines the employee’s base income. This means, that an employee has to at least receive the minimum wage according to their seniority. Moreover, there exist a number of bonuses and privileges determined by an employee’s seniority. Thus, it would be fair to say that it is used as wage protection for Danish employees.

Since it is just a minimum wage, it is easily possible to negotiate a better wage individually. Of course, it is also possible to negotiate better conditions and rights for maternity, holidays and potential bonuses tied to employment.

If you want to make sure to be paid the wage dictated by your seniority, remember to fill out an affidavit documenting your seniority and hand it to your employer, so that they will correctly calculate your wage. An employment contract usually also documents your seniority, but it is a good idea to issue such a declaration in order to secure the wage you are entitled to.

The structuring of the wage with regard to seniority is usually determined by one’s collective bargaining agreement. That is to say, that it is common for one’s trade union to negotiate the standards for wages paid in a specific field. In case you are not being paid properly and do not have an affidavit, you can contact your union or staff delegate.

Seniority and the Fair Labor Standards Act

The Fair Labor Standards Act includes a number of regulations regarding the termination of employees. This is also based on one’s earned seniority, which means that the notice period continuously increases, should one be so unfortunate as to be fired by their employer. As a public servant, there are even more protective rules, even though they are usually described in an agreement.

Typically, collective bargaining will also include rules regarding termination. If you are unsure about the length of your notice period, you can consult your trade union, the Fair Labor Standards Act or your employment contract, which should contain a section regarding termination. You can find a template for an employment contract here.

Moreover, Contractbook provides a template for a written notice, with which you can be sure to terminate an employee in accordance with their seniority. When firing someone, keep in mind, that seniority can entitle an employee to severance payments. If the employee has been under contract for 12 years in a row, they are furthermore entitled to receive a month’s wage as severance payment. If employed for 17 years straight, the employee has the right to receive to a severance payment equal to 3 months’ wages.

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