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Last Updated September 3, 2019

Your probation period questions answered

When hiring a new employee, it is common practice to include provision for a probation period in the offer of employment.

This  initial period of employment, offers both the employer and the new employee an opportunity to meet regularly to review and formally discuss the role and its suitability.  

Why have a probationary period?

Employees work much better when they are clear on the 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.  This will lead to happier, more settled employees.

A probationary period gives an employee the ability to assess if the job meets their expectations. The employer will gain an understanding of the individual’s skills, knowledge and personal attributes.  They can also determine if they are a good fit for the team, the business and its customers.

How long is a probationary period?

In most cases a probationary period is three months, however it can be up to six months.  For a business that hires less than 15 employees the probationary period can be up to 12 months. The term is also referred to as “minimum employment period”.

During the minimum employment period, if an employee is terminated, they will be unable to apply for unfair dismissal claim under the Fair Work Act.

What happens during a probationary period?

The new employee should go through an induction process which includes establishing learning and performance objectives. This is the first stage of the probationary period.

Regular meetings should be scheduled after this, at the end of the first, second and third month.  These meetings are to discuss progress towards objectives and any further assistance required by the employee. These discussions should be documented.  Where applicable the probationary period may also include sixth, ninth and twelfth month reviews.

If it is determined during these meetings that the employee is not able to meet the requirements of the role, it is best practice to advise the employee of possible termination. Clear expectations should be identified and what support will be provided.

How do I document assessment meetings during a probationary period?

Below outlines the steps to take for a probation period assessment meeting

Step 1: Book a time and advise the employee of the meeting and the purpose. Allow approximately 30-45 minutes.

Step 2: Invite the employee to talk about their experience so far including the role, their skills and knowledge as they relate to the role.  Discuss any issues they may have and any improvements that they have made. (Document issues or concerns raised and come back to them at the close of the meeting.)

Step 3: The manager will then provide feedback on the employee’s performance from their perspective. (Highlight any relevant issues with examples).

Step 4: Discuss issues raised by both the manager and the employee. (Document specific action or outcome)

Step 5: Discuss appropriate training, retraining, refocus and appropriate time lines. (The employee needs to receive a copy of the documented Action Plan.

Can I terminate an employee within the probationary period?

If there are any concerns about the employee during the probationary period, a meeting should be scheduled to discuss those concerns 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.  

If an employee is terminated during the probation period, the 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.

What happens at the end of a successful probationary period?

An employee should be formally notified in writing at the conclusion of their probationary period.  

Meetings should continue to occur throughout the employment lifecycle following the probation period. This is via regular meetings between an employee and their manager, and will form part of an annual formal performance appraisal meeting.

Contact Small Business Society if you need assistance with reviewing or implementing a consistent and best practice probationary period review process.

The information provided in this document is for your guidance only and is general in nature. It does not constitute as legal advice. It is the responsibility of the individual to seek legal advice where required.

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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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