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Probationary Period

Published November 19, 2023 (last updated on December 4, 2023) | Adam Wyatt - Copywriter and Content Creator

Finding the right employee is a challenge and becomes trickier if you’re new or a small business employer. You can only gain so much insight from an interview and the hiring process. This is where a probationary period acts as a great way of finding the right employee and fit for your business.

What is a probationary period?

A probationary period can provide a fair opportunity for the employer to assess an employee’s skills. Probation periods can last for any amount of time (the standard length is around three to six months) but the length of time must be recorded in the employment agreement. Employees on a probation period have the same minimum rights and entitlements as any other worker.

From an employee’s perspective, the probation period gives them additional time to figure if the role matches the job description and promised duties and if the company is a suitable environment for them to work in.

A probationary period:

  • can let the employee new to a job show that they have the necessary skills to do the job

  • can be for any amount of time but the time it’s going to last for must be recorded in the employment agreement

  • should be negotiated and used in good faith

  • should be a reasonable length of time taking into account all the relevant circumstances of the employer, the employee and the job

  • can be used when an employee starts a new job (even if they already work there, but are changing jobs)

  • is paid- employer’s can’t use a probationary period to get work done for free

  • should be recorded in writing in the employment agreement (it should clearly state that there is a probationary period and how long it will last).

Benefits of probationary period

  • sets out expectations clearly for both parties

  • provides clear metrics of success within a particular timeline

  • allows time for adjustment to a new role, new employee, and new company

  • is paid

  • can even be applied when an existing employee starts a new role within the company

During the probationary period

The employer must set out clear expectations from Day 1. This will give the employee time to acclimatise and adapt to the job and duties anticipated of them. These expectations should include information about any feedback, training, and coaching the employees may expect to receive. During the probationary period, employers should also provide constructive feedback on their performance, if any issues with their work, and if there’s a chance that their employment might not be continued after the probationary period ends.

During the probation period, it is good practice to monitor the employee’s progress and offer support where needed to make the transition for the employee. To ensure the probation period is fair and in good faith, employers must:

  • demonstrate to the employee what good performance is and the expectations of the job

  • provide appropriate training, support and resources where necessary

  • give employees a voice so they can raise any concerns and ask questions

  • give employees a chance to adjust to the new position and make the transition as fair as possible

If the probation period is going particularly well, employers can end the period early and have the employee sign a new employment agreement to confirm any changes.

Rights Of Probationary Workers

Probationary employees are entitled to the same benefits as other employees under New Zealand Employment Law (correct pay, leave, notice period, dismissal process etc.).

Employers should be aware that it is unlawful to force an employee into a probation period. If an employee signs an agreement that unknowingly has a probation period clause, the probation aspect of the agreement will be invalid. Employers cannot treat probationary employees differently to other workers or make threats in regards to continuing their employment.

If an employee feels they are being treated unfairly, they can file a personal grievance claim on the grounds of harassment.

Dismissing An Employee

If the probation period is not going well, an employer can choose to dismiss the employee. The dismissal process must be the same as dealing with any other worker.

Employers must make a fair assessment of the employee and their ability to do the job. If the employer decides to end their employment, they must tell the employee why they are wanting to do this and give them a chance to respond. Employers have to consider the response and if they still choose to end the employment, they must give the amount of notice stated in the employment agreement.

An employee can submit an unfair dismissal claim if they believe:

  • they did not receive the support and training they needed to do the job well

  • the employer did not have a good reason for dismissing them

  • the assessment process was unfair

After The Probation Period

If the probation period has gone well, the employer does not have to do anything for the position to become permanent. The employment will simply continue as stated in the agreement, except the probationary period will come to an end.

For advice on how to manage probation periods in the workplace, contact Employsure on 0800 568 012.

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