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The Green Sheet Online Edition

March 28, 2022 • Issue 22:03:02


Are probationary periods outmoded?

It used to be common for businesses to hire employees on a probationary basis for the first 30, 60 or 90 days, depending on the complexity and responsibilities of their respective jobs. But due to changes in the workforce and society overall, many company owners dispensed with probationary periods, concluding they're no longer useful, especially in light upheavals brought about by the COVID0-19 pandemic.

The pros

One benefit of a probationary or trial period is that it provides the employer and the new employee time in which to see whether the individual and the position are a good fit. It's possible a person will have all the right qualifications and shine during interviews but have lackluster performance on the job. It's also possible the employer's glowing description of a position when recruiting won't mesh with day-to-day reality on the job. A probationary period enables both parties to end a working relationship in a relatively painless way before either has invested too much into it.

Another benefit is that when the objectives of the trial period are set forth clearly, preferably in writing, this provides a specific point in time when the requisite skills and knowledge should be acquired and performance goals met. All members of the team involved with the new employees can keep these objectives in mind and do their part to see that the training and mentoring provided give the individual a strong start.

The cons

Various federal and state labor and employment laws affect hiring and firing processes. If you don't follow applicable guidelines, you could run afoul of the law. For example, sometimes certain benefits are not offered until an employee completes a probationary period, and while it's legal to delay some benefits, such as retirement plans and dental insurance, companies that employ more than 50 people full time must provide them with health insurance, and many health insurance companies require that insurance be offered within the first 30 days of hiring. Rules for sick leave also vary state to state and municipality to municipality. In many cases sick leave must be available from day-one.

Anti-discrimination laws also come into play. In the United States, these include the ADA and Title VII, which protect employees from the first day on the job. It's essential to make sure the parameters of your probationary period do not conflict with laws such as these.

Another drawback is that when an employee's probationary period concludes with positive results, an employee may construe that to mean they can only be dismissed for cause going forward. However, some states have at-will employment, which means an employer can terminate an employee at any time without cause, provided the employer doesn't break any federal or state laws when doing so.

As with everything else in business, communication is key. If you use a trial period, be clear about what is expected of new hires and by what date. Then be sure you and your colleagues make the person feel welcome, train them well, and check in regularly to discuss how the new team member is progressing toward full competency on the job. I think trial periods still have a place. Do you? end of article

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