Frequently asked questions about probationary periods answered

When hiring a new employee, it is common practice to include provision for a probation period in the offer of employment. This is an initial period of employment, which offers both the employer and the new employee an opportunity to regularly review and formally discuss the role and its suitability.

The employee can assess if the job meets their expectations whilst the employer will gain an understanding of the individual’s skills, knowledge and personal attributes and if they are a good fit for the team, the business and its customers.

Employees work much better when they are clear on expectations of the role they are required to perform and the custom practices of a business. They will also feel more positive and focused about their contribution which will lead to happier, more settled employees.

During this probationary period formal reviews with the new employee should be held at the end of the first, second and third month. Where applicable it may also include sixth, ninth and twelfth month reviews.

Read on for some frequently asked questions and answers, plus a handy Probation Period Assessment Template.

How long is a probationary period?
In most cases a probationary period is three months, however it can be up to six months.

What should I do within the probationary period?
The probationary period should be included in the contract of employment. The new employee should go through an induction process which includes establishing learning and performance objectives. Regular meetings should be scheduled to discuss progress towards these objectives and any further assistance required by the employee. These discussions should be documented in the event that termination during probation is a likely outcome.

Why is probationary period a certain length?
A probationary period is not longer than six months so that in most cases an employee who is terminated during this period is unable to apply for unfair dismissal under the Fair Work Act. For a business that hires less than 15 employees the probationary period is 12 months.

Can I terminate an employee within the probationary period?
If there are any concerns about the employee, a meeting should be scheduled to discuss further. Notes should be taken of the discussion, a course of action identified and a follow up meeting time scheduled. During this meeting the employee should be made aware that their employment is currently being reviewed and may be terminated.

What is the notice period to terminate an employee during the probationary period?
An employee must be provided with the minimum notice period as outlined in the Fair Work Act of one week. Alternatively you could choose to pay out the notice period including any leave entitlements owing.

For further information regarding using probationary periods, speak with Small Business Society.


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About Kate Tongue

Kate Tongue is the founding Director of Small Business Society.

She is a qualified and experienced Human Resources professional with more than 10 years of experience across the private and public sectors.

Her particular interest and experience is in managing the employee life cycle, delivering process improvements, and Human Resource strategy.


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