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How do probationary periods work?

The interview process is only a small glimpse into what an employee is actually like, but that's why we have probationary period.
Published 1 Apr 2021
4 min read

Hiring employees is a challenging process and even more so if you’re new to the game. Let’s face it – finding the right fit is hard. It’s often a balancing act between identifying someone with the most suitable skills, who will be a great culture fit/add and share the same vision. It’s a hard thing to find your star candidate, so chances are there will be times where things just don’t work out. The interview process is only a small glimpse into what an employee is actually like.

It’s difficult to gain a completely accurate insight into the person’s suitability from the hiring process alone, and this where the probationary period comes in.

What is a probation period?

Probationary periods are a set amount of time an employer or the employee can end the employment contract for any reason. This provides you with an opportunity to assess your new employees suitability, skills and how they fit into your working environment. A probationary period gives both the employer and the employee flexibility at a point where they are still establishing if the role is right for them. The standard consequences that come with terminating an employment contract are avoided during this period.

How long are probation periods?

The most common length of probationary periods can range anywhere from 3 to 6 months. When determining your probationary period, it’s important you’re aware of unfair dismissal laws when deciding on how long you want a probationary period to be. The Fair Work Act provides employees with protection once they’ve reached the ‘minimum employment period’ at a business. If your business has less than 15 employees, the employee must work for 12 months before being entitled to make a claim for unfair dismissal. This drops to 6 months if you employ over 15 people.

Making a probationary period longer than either of these minimum thresholds, will leave your business open to claims of unfair dismissal when you terminate an employee. A lengthy probation period can also turn off highly talented individuals from considering employment at your business.

Termination during probationary period

If you implement a probation period and determine that an employee isn’t suitable during this time, you can begin the termination process. Despite the fact that a probationary period does make termination easier, there are still some formal steps you will need to take.

When ending an employee’s contract whilst on probation, you must still act fairly and provide a valid reason. You may also be asking, do I have to give notice? Yes, each employment contract differs but it is essential that you give your employer notice in advance before you leave the company. The specific amount of notice will depend on the employment agreement or relevant award.

The best way to go about this process is to provide the employee with a termination letter. This is where you can outline the reason for terminating and the notice period required along with any additional information such as the employee’s end date.

Resignation in the probation period

You may be asking, can an employee resign during the probation period? The short answer is yes. Just as you can terminate an employee, employees are entitled to resign during their probation period. They may realise that the job doesn’t suit them or that they don’t fit the workplace environment.

Full time and part time employee resignation notice

Regardless of their reasoning, full time and part time employees are also required to provide notice of their desire to resign during the probation period. Like termination, the amount of notice will depend on the terms of the employment agreement.

Casual employee resignation notice

Again, this does not apply to casual employees, only full time or part-time. No notice period for casual employees is required during the probationary period. This also means they can resign without having to work any extra hours for the company.

Reasons to resign during probation

There are many reasons that may cause an individual to want to resign during this period of employment. Some factors may include:

  • The workload is more than you can handle
  • The work content isn’t engaging, challenging or what you signed up for
  • Workplace culture is not enjoyable and colleagues may be hard to get along with
  • You want to spend more time working on yourself, your family and the hours just aren’t flexible enough
  • The company is unethical or did not live up to the expectations agreed upon

The wrap up

To get the most out of a probationary period as an employer, it is best to be transparent with an employee about your expectations. Maintaining consistent communication will help you monitor performance and also assist your employee in understanding their role.

If you feel like termination is necessary but are unsure about the process, the advice of an employment lawyer may be of use.

Disclaimer: The information provided in these blog articles is general in nature and is not intended to substitute for professional advice. If you are unsure about how this information applies to your specific situation, we recommend you contact Employment Innovations for specific advice.

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