The first few months or weeks of a new job are not just a learning experience for the employee, but for the employer as well. This is a crucial period. The management and the HR department requires this time period to judge how well an employee fits in the organization. That is why knowing about the probation period is important.

But is that the only time an employee can be put on a probation period at work? No. In fact, it  can be given for different reasons depending upon the situation.

In this article, we will talk all about what is probation period, when does one become a probationary employee, what is a probationary contract, the purpose of probation, and a lot more. This will also help HR create a better probationary contract.

What is Probation Period?

When you ask someone what is probation period or what is its meaning, they usually have the same answer; a period taken to assess a new employee. However, a probation period is much more than that. Agreed, it is about assessment, but not necessarily of a new hire.

It is a trial period that is taken to assess whether or not an employee is a good fit within the organization. Now, whether that employee is new or current depends on their circumstances and contract.

Usually, a probation period does not involve some of the benefits that a full-time employee would otherwise get, such as paid leaves, reimbursements, pension plans, etc. A probationary employee usually stays on the period for three months to six months. It depends on the probationary contract between the employee and the organization.

What is the Purpose of Probation Period?

The main reason why probation period at work exists is because no hiring process is perfect. Hiring takes a short time, within which HR has to assess the candidates and choose the best one for the job. However, that is not a certainty. That is when the probation period comes in handy.

Following are some of the common reasons when an existing employee is demoted to a probationary employee:

  • Poor attendance
  • Bad ethics
  • Unsatisfactory performance

Thus the purpose of the probation period is to give the employee and the employer a chance to look at things from a different perspective. This is when the probationary employee gets to relook at their performance and the organization gets to check how it can utilize their resource.

Situations to Exercise Probation Period

probation period

We have looked at the brief scenarios, apart from recruitment, when the management can ask the employee to be on probation. Let’s take a look at them all:

Fresh Hire

This is the most common instance of having a probationary employee. Most of the organizations have a probation period that the newly-hired employee has to serve soon after joining. A probationary contract is a common occurrence in most organizations. However, if you hire an employee despite a dismal interview, thinking they may have potential, you may put them on probation even if you do not have the policy.

Promotion

If an employee gets a promotion, there is a possibility that the new designation would come with a specific probationary period. This is done so that the organization can judge how good their management and leadership capabilities of the said employee in the given designation are.

Poor Performance

If the employee has been consistently performing poorly and has bad behaviour, they can be put on probation.

Termination

This is also a situation where the probation period comes in handy, in the form of a notice period. The organization can put the employee on a probation period at work, as a last chance before termination.

Legal repercussions in the case of probation period can only occur if there is a wrongful termination on the part of the employer. Also, any violation of the original employee contract or even the probationary contract may lead to legal issues.

For instance, if the management keeps on extending an employee’s probation, at the same time not providing any concrete reason for the same, it can be grounds for harassment and discrimination as per respective state and federal laws.

What are the Rights of a Probationary Employee?

probation period

Probation period comes with a certain loss of privileges on the part of the employee. However, there are certain rights that they have. This is assuming that the initial employment was at ‘at-will’ basis. This basically translates to the fact that the employer can fire an employee at any given point of time. The rights of a probationary employee are:

  • They should be aptly communicated about the probation
  • The employees should know the reasons behind the probation or its extension
  • There should be a review or one on one between the employee and the manager, and further between the employee and the HR
  • The manager should have given the employee all the required assistance and training to improve the latter’s productivity
  • The probationary employees have the right to request a mentor
  • Probation period is not a punishment, just an opportunity to improve performance and the employees should know that

When to Extend Probation Period?

In certain cases, the organization can extend probation beyond what the management had previously decided. The reasons may vary, mostly being lack of any improvement in the employee’s performance.

The management often extends the probation after due consideration. This also involves a thorough discussion with the employee in question. The main reason behind it may be that the employees may need extra time to improve their skills or the learning process may be taking more time than usual. Whatever the situation, it is better to increase the probation period and observe the progress further.

An extension should always be a though-out and mutually decided process. It should not rub off negatively on the employee or be indicative of the fact that the employee is inefficient. The purpose is to make sure that the employee internalizes a certain level of learnings before coming on board full-time. Extend the probation accordingly.

Probation Period vs Extension vs Minimum Employment Period

There are a few key terms that HR need to understand to not create any confusion while drafting a probationary contract. A probation period is different from an extension and even a minimum employment period.

The main difference is legal. A probation period is an organizational aspect. This means that it varies from organization to organization. The same goes for an extension. It depends on whether or not it is permissible as per the company policy or as per the discussion between the employee and the organization.

On the other hand, a minimum employment period is a legal mandate. It is clearly mentioned in the Fair Labor Act that an employee who has been with an organization that has less than 15 employees, for less than a year, cannot file an application for unlawful dismissal. For the others, a minimum employment period of six months is mandatory.

To sum it up, a probation period is a time of assessment, an extension is often a request from the employee to figure out things, and a minimum employment period is a legal mandate.

Should you have a Probation Period in Place?

Yes, you should, because it may not necessary, but having a probation policy in place is good. Many organizations, especially small-scale ones, do not follow it. However, a probationary contract enables the organization to continuously assess employee performance and course correct. It also incentivizes the employees to be cautious about being lax at work. At the end of probation period, there should be a decision on whether the employee stays.

What kind of probationary contract do you have in place? Do discuss with us and tag us @HarmonizeHQ. We’re all ears.

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