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Why probation periods are essential for your company!

by , 12 June 2015
You've gone through all the recruiting process and now few weeks or a couple of months later, you realise you didn't hire the right person for the job.

So what's the solution now?

If you have probation period implemented through policies, you're safe!

You can use your probation period to assess the employee's performance ability and suitability for the job.

Here's how you can find out how to make probation work for you and what to do if your employee's not up to standard!

Note that by probation period we mean a length of time (normally three or six months) you use to check if an employee is suitable for the job.

You can use it to evaluate his performance before confirming permanent employment when he's:

1) A newly hired employee; or

2) An existing employee that you've promoted into a new position.  

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Use this time to work with him to monitor and correct areas of poor performance by providing the necessary guidance, counseling and training.

Pay attention to the fact that you can't abuse probation and use it to deprive employees of permanent employment status.

You can't dismiss an employee after probation and hire a new one to avoid your obligations to permanent employees.

An employee on probation is an employee in all respects, except that permanent employment is conditional on him successfully completing his probation. You still have to follow fair procedure if you choose to terminate a probationer's employment.

Keep this in mind: If you want to promote an employee, you can use probation to make sure he makes the grade. Moreover, you should tell him upfront he'll go back to his old position or risk dismissal if he doesn't make the grade.

The advantage of having a probation period

First of all, a probationary period gives you the chance to assess an employee's suitability for continued employment.

This means you still give the employee an employment contract, but you include a probationary clause to state that you'll be using the time to evaluate his suitability for the position.

Include the following sample clause in your employment contracts:

The employee will serve a period of ____________ (months) probation. The purpose of probation will be to establish whether the employee has the necessary skills and ability to perform the functions and duties of the job in an acceptable manner and to a satisfactory standard.

____________ (Company's name) will provide reasonable assistance, guidance, training and counseling to assist the employee to meet the required performance standard.   

____________ (Company's name) will provide the employee, while on probation, with regular feedback and evaluation of performance and at the expiry of the probation period,  ____________ (company's name) will make the ultimate assessment of whether the employee has met the performance requirements as determined by ____________ (company's name). The employee's appointment will only be confirmed if he has satisfied the company's requirements.

If you dismiss an employee on probation and he takes you to the CCMA, the arbitrator will accept less compelling reasons for a poor performance dismissal than if he was a permanent employee (Code of Good Practice: Dismissal). The arbitrator's less likely to question your decision to dismiss a probationer – as long as you've followed fair procedure.

Note that the arbitrator will only consider less compelling reasons in a poor performance dismissal. The same rules apply for probationers and non-probationers in misconduct dismissals, you must prove it in the normal way.  

And, finally, you can make the probation period work for you!

For this, don't forget that your probation must be for a reasonable period based on the requirements of the job (our recommendation is that it should be between three and six months). However, there'll be exceptions when a longer period may be needed, e.g. specialist working environments. A shorter period's fine when a job requires low levels of skill or technical expertise.

You must determine this in advance and be reasonable in relation to the job (and you can determine the probation period based on the nature of the job and the time you need to assess the employee's suitability).

You have plenty of reasons to use probation periods in your contracts and company!

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