Small Business Employee Policies Series: Probationary Period

Once you’ve gone through the process of finding and hiring the right candidate, the last thing that you’d expect is the need to fire your new employee.

Despite thoroughly interviewing and checking references, it is not out of the realm of possibility that your new employee will not be a good fit.  Problems during the first several months can range from a personality mismatch, to performance issues.  Whatever the reason, it is essential that you have an employee policy in place that will support the need to terminate your employee if job related issues do occur during the early stages of your new staff members’ employment.

The probationary period, also called an orientation and review period is essentially a trial period for both you and your new employee to determine whether the job match is a good one.

The average orientation and review period is 90 days, as this is often considered a reasonable amount of time to determine how well the new employee is performing in most jobs.

Although there should be a standard probationary period for all employees, depending on the role, a 90 day probationary period may not be enough time to determine whether the job is a good fit based on the natural learning curve required for the job.

In cases where it may take longer to become acclimated to a particular role or in cases where the employee may not have all of the tools needed to perform their job effectively, up to a 6 month probationary period may make sense.

What is absolutely essential regardless of the length of time allotted is that you have an official policy in place before applying the probationary period standard to your new employees.

There may be roles within your organization that warrant a probationary period longer than the established standard.  This type of exception should be made part of your official policy.  A simple sentence that references that there may be a few positions that warrant a longer probationary period at management discretion should suffice, but if you are unsure, consult an employment lawyer.

Transparency is key.  Best management practice dictates that you determine prior to even posting your job and interviewing candidates what the length of your probationary period will be and if there are some jobs that will require a longer probationary period.

Once you’ve established your criteria, put your probationary period policy in writing and share the policy with all of your potential hires during the interview process and at the time of your job offer to your final candidate.

Be sure to update your employee policy and procedures manual on your website or in any employee handbooks.  Send an email to your current employees to make them aware of the policy.

Lastly, add a few sentences that reference the probationary period policy in your offer and confirmation letter to your new employee.

Upcoming policies in the small business policy series includes Confidentiality,  Time Away From Work,  Use/Access To Company Property,  Internet and Social Media in the Workplace,  Telecommuting Policy,  Workplace Behavior,  Disciplinary Policy,   Termination Policy.

Dianne Shaddock is the Founder of Easy Small Business HR.com, a website which provides “Quick and Simple Human Resources Strategies for Small Businesses, Non Profits, and Entrepreneurs.  Go to EasySmallBusinessHR.com for more tips on how to hire and manage your staff more effectively.

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