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Everything you need to know about probation period at work

Aude Creveau

It's important to always be aware of the various workplace laws and protocols, so you can run a tight workplace that is productive and open.

In this regard, it's especially important that you get to know the probation period and how it comes into play. This is a time in which you and your employee are essentially operating on a trial period.

There are a variety of points that you need to be aware of when it comes to the probation period. Read on so that you can learn more about the probation period and all that it entails.

Probation periods according to the law

The first thing you need to do is to get to know the probation period, as it pertains to statutory employment laws and required standards.

Essentially, there are no laws on the books that dictate the minimum period of time you need to have a probation period, or what details you need to know. Companies are not required by law to implement a probation period and have autonomy over how it's set up.

You can gauge your employee's personality and experience in the job interview, but probation period gives you further time to see if it's a worthwhile hire.

The sticking point, however, is that if you do include a probation period in an employee's contract, you are then under a legal obligation to uphold it. Understanding this will let you understand just why this is so important, and you can create a probation period that you are better able to stick to.

Here are the probation period details that you might be held legally liable for:

1. The length of the probation period

How long is your company's probation period? While probation periods aren't covered under any sort of legal code, you have to stick to the length once it is established. This becomes legally binding, and both you and your employee must sign off on the contract.

When putting together employment contracts, companies usually create probation periods between 3 to 6 months or so.

2. Notice period during probation period

You should include a notice period when creating a probation agreement. This period refers to when an employee has to give notice that they are leaving the company. If you don't include a specific period in the contract, you should abide by a notice period of at least a week, as pursuant to statutory compliance.

3. Rights for employees on probation period

Whether an employee is working in a probation period or is a long-time employee, they are still afforded certain rights.

For instance, employees that are working under a probationary basis are protected by law against discrimination and harassment. This means discrimination and harassment age, sex, race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, and any other demographic.

If you do have to terminate the employment, it's important that you document your reasons, so that you don't raise suspicion of discrimination for any of these reasons. Whenever an employer dismisses an employee and fails to provide solid reasons, employees are protected against an automatic unfair dismissal and may take action if the employer didn't provide documentation.

Employees on probation period are also afforded standard benefits by law -- to include paid time off, vacation time, sick pay, family leave, pay at or above the minimum wage laws, and other circumstances.

How to implement a probation period right

A probation period lets you see if the employee is a good fit, and also gives them a chance to adapt to their new work life without as much pressure. To make sure that there is no confusion or legal problems, you need to hammer out every detail in the contract.

Here are the points that you need to be aware of in order to correctly implement a probation period:

1. Include probation period terms in the contract

You will need to drum up a solid employment contract that explains things like duties and responsibilities, rights, and general conditions of the job. When you add this clause to your employment contract, be sure to include details about the length of the probation period, the terms related to a notice period, and the company's right to extend the probation period if they see fit.

You might typically see this happen if the initial probation period was 3 months, but the employer wishes to extend it as long as 6 months. By including this wiggle room in the contract, your company will have more flexibility about whether or not you want to keep someone on board.

2. Other considerations when implementing the probation period

Since a probation period generally lasts between 3 to 6 months, you'll need to think about your company specifically and which works for you.

When you are deciding how long you want someone's probation period to last, you should consider the nature of their role, the responsibilities of the job, and how long you think it should reasonably take for them to get comfortable with the job.

You should also factor in how long you think it will take you as the employer to make a fair judgment about how they've adapted to the role, and their ability to do the job moving forward.

3. Share with your employees

Transparency is the best thing that you can offer your employees when creating a probation period in their contract.

Provide them with a signed and dated hard copy of the contract, and make sure to also include digital copies. You can give them long-time access to the contract by creating digital employee files that they can access on their own time.

4. Inform managers about the probation period terms

Whenever a probation period is in place, you need to make your managers aware of the terms. Rather than just speaking to them in person or sending e-mails, take the time to share the probation period terms internally using the kiwiHR integrated document management system. 

Using this platform allows you and your managers to all have access to the documents on a 24/7 basis. It keeps everyone on the same page and makes sure that there is no confusion. 

Ensure a successful probation period

Once you create a probation period, it's important that you implement it in a way that works. There are a few steps that will let you be careful and consistent when putting together such a plan. Here's what you need to know:

1. Use a structured onboarding

It's important that you check and fine-tune your onboarding process to make sure that it's successful. 

Taking advantage of quality onboarding speeds up your employee's integration process and makes the entire transition a lot smoother for them.

This is great not only for the probation period but also their long-term success as an employee with the company.

2. Set expectations in the beginning 

By setting employee expectations as early as possible, there will be less confusion and you'll get more out of your new hires as a whole. 

Rather than setting arbitrary things, take the time to create an entire onboarding checklist that both you and the employee can reference.

These expectations can be defined in great detail in the onboarding checklist so that they're fully aware of all tasks and responsibilities from day one.  

3. Set your targets

You should work with your new employees so that you can set specific goals and hit targets that are measurable. When you set targets, you'll be better able to hash out the details and make all your goals and objectives for the new employee measurable.

When you use kiwiHR's onboarding checklist, you'll be able to clearly set deadlines and access them via the cloud whenever you need to. You will be reminded to track the new employee's target or task so that you can follow up accordingly.

This is also great and necessary from a liability standpoint since you will have ongoing documented evidence of their performance or lack thereof.

4. Review your employee's performance

Be sure that you direct your employee's supervisor to create employee reviews. These reviews should formally explain how the employee has been progressing and what they can do to get better.

This gives them both a time to track these details and document any circumstances that come into play.

5. Hold regular review meetings

The best thing you can do is to hold regular meetings with the new employee. Doing this will let you all stay on the same page and get clear on how they are progressing and performing.

It is during these meetings that you can make any concerns clear as early in the probation period as possible. By taking the time and effort to communicate these issues early in the game, your new employee will have the chance to correct them and let you know if they need any support in this regard.

Make notes of these meetings and be transparent about any concerns that you have. Above all, use these meetings as a time to regularly review your employee's file and how they are fitting in with the company as a whole.

You should also gauge things like how much overtime employees work when compared to their output and effectiveness.

6. Hold a probation review meeting

Make sure that you hold a probation review meeting at the end of the probationary period. This should be a formalized meeting so that you can congratulate them on getting to the end of it, and also letting them know the next steps that you would like to take.

When you have access to the kiwiHR onboarding tool, you can set plenty of reminders to make you aware of this meeting well in advance. This way, you will have lots of time to prepare for the meeting, so that you're communicating effectively and making the best decision for your company as a whole.

If the employee passes their probation period, this will be a great time to give them some motivation to keep up the good work. You can point out plenty of the things they did well, in addition to some things that you'd like to see them grow on.

As such, they will be both motivated to take on the job on a full-time, long-term basis, and accept the challenge of getting better, as they increasingly become an asset to the company.

However, if you find that they aren't the person that you want for the job over the long-term, the review meeting is every bit as important.

You are essentially terminating their contract, so you need to come to the table with all of your reasons and documentation laid out plainly. Bring your notes and make sure that you explain them each point by point.

You should make your employee feel included in the conversation, and allow them to voice any observations -- particularly if them staying on board with the company is still a possibility. Keep the notes from this meeting for your own file keeping, and also provide a copy to the employee.

7. Make your final decision

When it's all said and done, the decision to terminate or extending a probation period lies with you. Whichever way you decide to go, make sure that you state it plainly in writing and share it with your employee.

If your decision is to extend the probation period, make sure that you continuously track their growth and help them to improve their performance with training and support. Make sure that you also make use of an offboarding checklist for staff dismissal so that you can further avoid unfair dismissal.

Get to know the probation period and everything it entails

As you can see, the probation period is a matter of law when it is put into contract form. Maintaining a probation period will effectively help your company's culture to the fullest. 

Without question, this period is beneficial for both the employee and employer. If you would like to incorporate such a period, make sure that you put these terms in writing and include them in any new employee's contract. 

Stay tuned for more human resources tips, and don't hesitate to shop around for the amazing products and services that we offer.

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