Employee Probationary Periods

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What Is a Probationary Period in an Employment Setting?

A probationary period in an employment setting is a set period of time wherein an employee’s performance is monitored closely in order to assess their capabilities. Probationary periods are often applied to new employees as a means of determining their capabilities in a new job. 

Probationary periods, or simply “probation”, may vary according to the nature of the business involved. Probation typically lasts anywhere from 1-3 months, but may be longer or shorter. The outcome of the probationary period can strongly influence the employee’s opportunities, especially with regards to raises, promotions, or other work positions. The probationary period and its rules are usually defined in employee handbooks. 

What Types of Situations Are Probationary Periods Used in?

An employer may require an employee to undergo a probationary period for various reasons, such as:

What Rights Does an Employee Have During a Probationary Period?

Most employment is done on an “at-will employment” basis, which means that the employer may terminate an employment at any time for any reason, even during a probationary period. However, an at-will basis does not leave the employee with no rights during a probationary period. 

For the protection of both the employee and the employer, it is best if the following measures are taken:

Thus, it is important for the employee to understand that probation is not a form of “punishment” or “time-out” for poor performance. Instead, the probationary period should be regarded as an opportunity to learn and progress as an employee.

What Types of Legal Issues Are Associated with Probationary Periods?

One of the more common legal issues involved with probationary periods is that of wrongful termination. If the employee performs very poorly during a probationary period, it could be grounds for a decision to fire the worker. 

However, the employee may have a legal claim if the probationary period involved any violations of the law, such as if being placed on probation violated their employment contract or if the probation is not handled according to company policy as outlined in the employee handbook. Therefore, the employer should provide the employee with documentation that supports their reasons for firing them if they do fire the employee after the probationary period.   

Probationary periods must conform to federal and state standards regarding general employment issues. For example, if one specific class of workers is continually being placed under probation, or is constantly being put on probation for apparently no reason, it could be grounds for a discrimination claim or harassment lawsuit. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Concerns Regarding Probationary Periods?

If you have any questions or concerns regarding probationary periods, you may wish to speak with an employment law attorney.  Your lawyer can help determine whether a probation period was conducted properly, and whether a legal claim may be necessary in your situation. 

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Last Modified: 06-10-2014 09:51 AM PDT

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