Most employment contracts we have seen have a probationary period in it. However, many employers don’t give it much thought, except when they become unhappy with the employee’s performance or general ‘fit’ after they commence work.
There is no requirement to provide a probationary period. In saying that, it is a great tool for employers and their employees to regularly check in with each other, formalise any observed training needs and communicate expectations. They aren’t an excuse to simply fire someone 2 months and 28 days into their employment, with no explanation though.
Probationary periods aren’t written into legislation or Modern Awards, which means the terms of a probation period needs to be written into a contract (either a common law contract or enterprise agreement). Because of this, they can vary from as little as a week or two, generally up to 3 months. On occasion probationary periods we’ve seen these clauses stretch it out to 6 months.
Probationary periods don’t negate an employee’s access or entitlement to any employment conditions, such as annual leave or personal/carer’s leave. If they don’t pass their probationary period, the employee is still entitled to receive the required notice of termination.
For a successful probationary period, creating a system for what is expected both within the role and within the company in general, is an important step to providing clear expectations and mechanisms for communication.
Preparing a training schedule, booking ‘check-in’ and formal meeting dates in advances, as well as the initial induction, provides a seamless process for new employees to get the best start in their role. Depending on the needs of your business, the probation period will vary. For our guide, we’ve gone with the popular 3 months.
On the first day, providing the employee with a plan for their training and induction, including regular ‘check ins’ sets the tone for an organised, proactive employment experience.
At the end of the first week, spend time with the employee (as per your initial plan) to review the week. What did they like? What did they not understand? What questions do they have etc.?
For the first month, if possible, a weekly ‘check in’, plus regular, ongoing feedback keeps communications lines clear. Set fair, measurable targets and milestones for the employee to reach. If they don’t reach these targets, this may be a trigger for starting the conversation regarding a performance improvement plan.
During months 2-3 (and ongoing) regular feedback and structure continues to be beneficial. Whether positive reinforcement or constructive ‘criticism’, receiving timely information about workplace performance helps everyone achieve in their role.
Before Probation Ends
Towards the end of 3 months, schedule a meeting (ideally, in person) with the employee to discuss the end of their probationary period and whether they have been successful or not. In either case, by following the above steps, it shouldn’t be a great surprise to the employee. We recommend providing the employee a notice to advise them of the decision in writing.
If you find it hard to put systems in place for your employees, or you’re anxious about having these conversations with your staff, get in touch with our team today.
Don’t forget, this is general information only and you should always seek advice specific to your business circumstances.