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What is a probation period and what does it mean?

So you have landed your dream job and are eagerly trying to impress your employer and make a good impression. The first months in a new job can leave you feeling uncertain as your probation period looms over you. You may question if your services will still be required at the end of this period (fingers crossed) or how much notice will you be given?

The old-fashioned 3 month probation period is now a thing of the past and has become void in employment terms. Under the Fair Work Act 2009, the minimum employment period is 6 months from the employees start date or 12 months for a business with fewer than 15 employees. During this period an employee is unable to make a claim for unfair dismissal.

So what is a probation period? It is the initial period of employment in which the employer can assess the suitability of the employee for the role and vice versa where the employee can decide if the role is right for them.

Why do we need a probation period? A probation period allows the manager or business owner the opportunity to evaluate their new recruit and assess their suitability not only in the role but also their behavioural and cultural fit in the business. I am sure you have all interviewed someone who you thought would be a shining star in your business only to find a few months in it just wasn’t working. A probation period enable the manager or business owner to end the employment relationship without the employee being able to make an application for unfair dismissal. It is crucial to monitor the performance of the employee during this period to assist with learning, any obstacles associated with the role and to ensure you are setting up the employee for success.

What to do before the probation period ends. As a manager or business owner you need to decide if the employee should be made permanent or if they should be terminated. This decision should be an easy one if you have been monitoring their performance and providing feedback during the probation period.

Are they a keeper or cut them loose? If you are going to offer the employee permanent employment you should issue a letter congratulating them on passing their probation period and confirming their ongoing employment. If the employee was unsuccessful in passing their probation period you must still comply with the required notice periods (In most cases, this is one week’s notice or payment in lieu of notice) and pay out all accrued entitlements.

Below are some steps for best practice during a probation period.

  • Recruit a star
  • Have a solid on boarding program
  • Ensure your business has a culture that reflects your values
  • Be clear in your expectations and communication
  • Give meaningful and timely feedback

As a manager or business owner it is up to you to set up your employees for success!

This blog was written by Resident HR Guru Natalie Bol

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