What is a Probationary Period?

At a glance

When making a new hire or evaluating someone with performance issues, employers can choose to extend a limited-time trial contract in the form of a probationary period.

Published on:
May 6, 2024

Understanding Probationary Periods

A probationary period is a formal time, typically the first few weeks or months of a role, during which an employer can determine whether the person they hired is a good fit. It can also be a disciplinary period for employees who have had performance issues in their roles. This period, although exempt from a normal employment contract, is designed to ensure a fair and thorough assessment, making it easier for companies to rescind or terminate their offer of employment with little notice.

During a probationary period, an employer evaluates a new employee or reevaluates current employees with performance problems. This makes it easier to let go of employees if needed.

The Significance of Probationary Periods

Probationary periods, a beneficial tool for both employers and employees, provide a platform for employers to assess new hires comprehensively, from their skills to their performance and cultural fit. Simultaneously, it offers employees the opportunity to gauge if the job's responsibilities align with their expectations. These periods, which can vary in length, serve as a mutual evaluation process for both parties, fostering a positive and productive work environment.

Probationary periods allow employers to evaluate new hires' skills and performance while giving employees time to see if the job meets their expectations. They can vary in length and serve as a mutual evaluation process for both parties.

During a Probationary Period

Employers must clearly outline their probationary period guidelines and comply with relevant employment laws within their jurisdiction. Throughout a probationary period, the employer and employee should get to know each other well in the context of the role. This is a valuable opportunity for employees to showcase their talents and for employers to assess employment fit by gauging things like their skills, performance, and commitment to the role, with the aim of fostering growth and improvement.

Employers should clearly define probationary period guidelines and comply with relevant laws, using the period to assess team fit while employees can showcase their skills. During this time, both parties work to understand each other better within a role's context.

After a Probationary Period

Generally, there are a few paths a company can take when a probationary period has wrapped up. Here are the most common:

  • Offering permanent employment. When both employer and employee enjoy the working arrangements established by an initial probationary period, the employer typically extends a job offer.
  • Terminating employment during a probationary period is a flexible process. If an employer feels that their new hire is not a suitable fit for the position or the company, they can let them go at the end of the period. Similarly, the employee can choose to walk away from the agreement. In both scenarios, the termination process is quicker and more adaptable than a traditional termination, reflecting the efficiency and adaptability of probationary periods.
  • Extending the probationary period. Occasionally, an employer will choose to extend a probationary period, such as because they need more time to evaluate a worker's skill set. The employee can also ask for an extension, for example, if they were going through extenuating life circumstances that affected their work during the period. This flexibility in the process ensures that both parties have a fair chance to assess the fit and make informed decisions.
After a probationary period, a company will typically either offer permanent employment, terminate the employee if they're not a good fit, or extend the probationary period for further evaluation. 

Best Practices for Small Businesses

Small businesses can utilize probationary periods as a cost-effective way to thoroughly test out a new hire before committing to them. Cultural cohesion can be extra important for smaller teams, so consider using an employment probation period to feel out a new hire before making them a permanent employee.

Small businesses can use probationary periods to assess a new hire's fit and performance before fully committing to adding a new member to the team.

Main takeaway

Probationary periods allow employers to assess new hires' suitability or reassess current employees' performance, offering an opportunity for mutual evaluation. After a probationary period, employers may provide or re-offer employment, extend the probationary period of further assessment, or let the employee go.

About the author

Casey Pontrelli

Casey Pontrelli is a multi-talented professional with a background in content creation, branding, and social media marketing. Whether writing for a newspaper, eCommerce website, B2B startup, or a marketing agency, she has taken her strong background in journalism and turned her focus to SEO and content marketing. She’s written about everything from boutiques to cars to small businesses, and enjoys most when she knows her writing has had an impact. When she’s not writing up a storm or creating attention-grabbing social media posts, Casey enjoys hanging out with her two cats, Eddy and Larry, going on long walks in the Green Belt, and, predictably, reading.

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