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The Probationary Period: a Time of Increased Coaching, Not a “Get out of jail free card”

Updated: May 30, 2023

The end of a probationary period can be a make-or-break moment for your organizational culture. The first 90 days of employment gives you the chance to evaluate an employee's suitability for the job and determine whether to continue their employment. It’s also the chance for the new employee to assess if it’s a good fit. In this blog post, we'll explore the ins and outs of probationary periods and share tips on how to make the most of this critical time. We will help you navigate the end of your employee's probationary period and learn how to set your organization, and your employee’s, up for long-term success.

Probationary periods are common practices among employers and are generally considered to be part of the hiring process. While it is commonly thought that during the first 90 days of employment, employers have the ability to end employment without notice or pay, it is important to know that is not always the case. In every employment situation, employers must meet the minimum standards of the applicable Employment Standards legislation. They must also ensure that the terms of the probationary period are clearly outlined in the employee's employment contract. Employees cannot “contract out” of Employment Standards – which means that if your legislation calls for termination pay after 90 days, a probationary period longer than 3 months does not remove this requirement.

Think about the probationary period as a time of increased coaching and feedback, very clear short-term expectations, and higher scrutiny of task completion.

To make the most out of your probationary period:

1. Set clear expectations and outline the support available.

From the start, define the expectations for the probationary period—write it down. Ensure the employee knows what the expectations are, what they need to do to meet them by the given timeline, and where to go for help if they need it.

2. Evaluate the employee's performance BEFORE the 90 days is over.

No later than 6 weeks after starting, consider their work quality, productivity, reliability, and overall fit with the organization’s culture. Review any feedback from colleagues, supervisors, and clients. Take note of any areas where the employee needs improvement or additional training.

3. Provide feedback to the employee.

Give the employee constructive feedback with enough time for them to have the opportunity to show you improvement before the probationary period is over. We recommend providing this feedback at least monthly—but feel free to provide regular, even daily, coaching and feedback.

4. Decide whether to continue the employee's employment BEFORE the 90 days is over.

At about 2.5 months, decide whether to continue the employment beyond the probationary period. Terminations can take time to plan so you will want to ensure you have enough time to prepare.

5. Follow proper termination procedures.

If you're terminating the employee's employment, make sure you follow proper termination procedures. Provide written notice or pay in lieu of notice, as required by the Employment Standards legislation in your jurisdiction. Make sure the reason for termination is not discriminatory and that it complies with human rights laws. See LIHR’s Termination Tips Blog Post for more information.

6. Provide training and support.

If you had any performance concerns during the probationary period, ensure that the employee has received this feedback and that you have provided them with guidelines to improve and the resources to make the improvements. A Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”) is a great tool to support this process.

7. Let the employee know when the probationary period is over.

While not a legal requirement, an email or letter confirming that the employee has successfully completed the probationary period is helpful in building the employment relationship. This helps boost the employee’s confidence and signals a new stage in their career. For the employer, this draws a clear line between the time of increased coaching and scrutiny and the time of regular employment and clarity.

As an employer, you know that evaluating employee performance is essential to your organization’s success. That's why LIHR offers a policy management software that can help you streamline and automate your policies and procedures. With this program, you will no longer need manual tracking as this efficient, user-friendly platform allows you to manage all your policies with electronic sign off. Set expectations for employee behavior and receive automated timeline reminders to ensure you don't miss the critical 1.5-month and 2-month guidelines for performance discussions. This policy management software can include all the important policies such as recruitment, onboarding, performance management, training, terminations, and more. Sign up for a free trial of our SOP Program today and take the first step towards efficient, effective policy management.

For professional HR advice that you can trust, contact us today!

Lisa Isaac HR Professional Services

From the LIHR team and lead collaborator, Justine Perdeaux, HR Advisor

photo courtesy of (Zac Durant)

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