[LTR] There seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding probationary periods of employment. Some organizations believe that the changes to the Manitoba Employment Standards Code have eliminated or severely curtailed an employer's right to establish a meaningful probationary period. This is not the case. Our Employment Standards Code provides a one week period of notice, or payment in lieu of notice of termination of employment, for an employee with greater than 30 days of employment but less than one year of employment. Employees terminated within the first 30 days of employment are not eligible to receive notice or pay in lieu of notice of termination. Some employers have incorrectly interpreted this to mean that they can only apply a 30 day probationary period.

What is a Probationary Period?

It is a specified period of time usually defined as a number of days or hours to be worked by a newly hired employee. Typically, they are three months in duration, although in some cases longer periods, such as six months exist. It must be noted that where a probationary period is greater than 30 days and the employer decides to terminate the employment of the probationary employee beyond 30 days of employment, statutory severance pay will be applicable. Care needs to be taken to clearly establish that a probation is to include only hours and days actually worked.

What Factors Should an Employer Assess?

During the probation the employer may assess and evaluate whether a newly hired employee is suitable for long term or ongoing employment.

Typically during the probationary period an organization assesses factors such as: work performance, work habits, attitude, attendance and productivity. The employer can also determine whether the new employee has the skills, abilities and personal characteristics to succeed in the position.

A probationary period can be established by company policy and is usually documented in the letter of employment or in the employment agreement. In the case of union represented employees, the probationary period is established in the collective agreement. It is essential that newly hired employees are clearly advised of the purpose and duration of probation. In addition probationary employees should understand the implications of unsatisfactory performance or conduct during this period.

Tips for Employers

- Ensure that the specific duration of the probationary time is determined and established in company policy and the collective agreement if applicable.

- Ensure the probation is clearly documented and communicated in the offer of employment or employment agreement.

- Ensure employees clearly understand the expectations and requirements of the employer during the probationary period.

- Ensure that employees understand the implications of both a satisfactory and an unsatisfactory probation.

- Ensure that supervisors or managers understand and comply with company requirements to conduct the necessary performance reviews or assessments during the probation period.

- Ensure supervisors maintain ongoing contact with new employees throughout the probation period

- Documentation of probationary employee performance is essential.

Contributing to Successful Probation

Probation should not be considered as a sink or swim proposition. It is not a good idea to leave a newly hired employee to figure things out on their own. Newly hired probationary employees are more likely to be successful if the employer conducts a thorough orientation. In addition, clearly outlining employer policies and procedures at the earliest opportunity is essential to success. A careful review of work instructions including safety and quality policies and procedures is beneficial.

Upon Conclusion of the Probationary Period

Upon the conclusion of the probationary period the supervisor must be able to clearly determine whether the probationary employee should be retained or whether they are deemed unsuitable for continued employment. At this point there should not be any surprises. If the process has worked properly the supervisor will have provided the new employee with ongoing feedback throughout the probationary period.