The term “probationary period” is frequently referred to when owners and managers are hiring an employee or when they are thinking about terminating an employee. The word “probation” indicates a period of time when the employer assesses a new hire’s performance and work habits to make sure that they are aligned with the mission, vision and goals of the organization. Most management-level employees believe that as long as they terminate the employee within their “probationary period” which is usually 30, 60 or 90 days from the employee’s date of hire, that they may do so without any legal actions on behalf of the employee due to state employment-at-will laws. However, it is strongly recommended that employers follow a progressive disciplinary action process for involuntarily terminating an employee whether or not that employee has worked for the organization for one day, 90 days or longer, voiding the general terms of a “probationary period.” Having the proper documentation increases the employer’s odds of winning unemployment claims and other employment-related actions filed on behalf of the departing employee. It is imperative that the company make sure that documentation related to progressive disciplinary action is accurate, consistent and up-to-date during the “probationary period” just as you would after the “probationary period” in order to hopefully avoid any adverse employment-related actions. So, the idea of a “probationary period” has really become outdated.
Due to the fact that the terms, “probationary period” have become outdated, it may be a better idea for companies that currently have a “probationary period” to rename it to an “introductory period.” From a benefits standpoint the “introductory period” should be used to assist with determining when an employee is eligible for paid time off (vacation, sick or personal days, holidays, bereavement leave, etc.), healthcare insurance and other health-related benefits, retirement savings plans, etc. Remember too that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), aka Obamacare, mandates that eligibility requirements for healthcare-related benefits be no more than 90 days for a new hire. In addition, it is always a good idea to informally check-in with a new hire consistently throughout their “introductory period” from a performance perspective to make sure that they understand the essential duties and responsibilities of their job and are performing accordingly. A formal performance evaluation may be appropriate at the end of the “introductory period.”
So, if your organization refers to the first 30, 60, or 90 days of a new hire’s employment as a “probationary period,” consider renaming it to an “introductory period.” Then make sure that your managers are following a consistent progressive disciplinary action process when necessary with every employee to assist with the development of performance and the improvement of work habits. This simple process will aid in your organizations ability to potentially avoid unemployment claims and other adverse employment-related actions.
For additional information on this topic, please contact New Focus HR.
Written By: Kristen Shingleton Deutsch, M.B.A., CCP
President, New Focus HR LLC