Probation Periods

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Friday, Jun 14, 2024

Hiring new employees and building a successful team is an exciting time for business owners. But giving any new hires a chance to impress is key to a motivated workforce.

Probation periods allow any new starters the chance to learn the ropes and impress their new employer. Giving you the best opportunity to review the performance of your new starters.

In this guide, we'll discuss why probation periods are important, any notice employees are entitled to following termination during this period, and how to manage employees on probation.

What is a Probation Period?

A probation period is a set period of time at the beginning of a new job.

This trial period is the employee's opportunity to demonstrate their skill set, and to prove that they’re the right fit for the company before offering them permanent employment.

What's the Purpose of a Probationary Period?

There are many different reasons which outline the importance of an initial probationary period for new employees. It’s key you understand these when hiring:

  • Allowing employers to evaluate whether the new workers are a good match and if the employment relationship can continue.
  • Employers can determine whether the probationary employee can meet work deadlines and the workloads expected.
  • The timekeeping and attendance records of the new employee will be assessed.
  • Employers can determine whether the employee fits in with the culture of the company.
  • Allowing employers to see if their recruitment process is working and ends with them hiring the correct candidate for the job.

Probationary periods allow employers to make informed and considered choices about whether they're the type of employee they want to have as part of their business.

How Long are Probationary Periods?

A normal probationary period typically consists of the first three months of employment. However, they can last between one and six months.

It's important you understand local legislation for the province in which you're based before hiring new employees:

Ontario: Three months. British Columbia: Three months. Alberta: 90 days. Manitoba: 29 days. Saskatchewan: Thirteen weeks.

Can Employers Extend a Probationary Period?

Employers are entitled to extend the probation period from what is stated in the legislation for a new employee. The following reasons are why you could choose to extend an employee’s probation:

  • You may need more time to assess whether they're the right person for the job.
  • The probationary employee may have been absent for a proportion of the probationary period three months on sick leave - not giving them a chance to prove they're correct for the role.
  • If the performance of the new employee was poor at the start of probation but is improving towards the end - extending this time gives you more time to make a decision.

If employers want to extend a probation period for a new employee, a probationary period clause must be inserted into the employment contract.

Both parties must agree to the clause when employment commences. This will avoid any conflict when it comes to making the decision to extend probation and improve the employment relationship.

If the probationary period is extended past the legislated time, the employee is still owed notice of termination.

What's a Probationary Period Clause in an Employment Contract?

A probationary period clause increases an employer's ability to extend probation, under employment law.

This clause helps both employer and employee make a thorough decision regarding permanent employment.

Should Clauses be Included in Employment Contracts?

Any clauses must be clearly stated in all employment contracts. Failure to include these could cause conflict further down the line.

It's important to remember that if you extend the probation period of an employee past the legislated amount, their employment rights will change.

Employment Contract Requirements for Probationary Periods

The length of the probation period must be clearly stated as part of the employment contract. Both parties must sign this employment agreement before the start of the role.

As an employer, you need to make the expectations of the employee throughout the probation as clear as possible.

Are Probationary Periods Required for Every New Employee?

Under Canadian employment law, probationary periods aren't a legal requirement. Both employer and employee must agree to the probation before the start of the employment contract.

Can Employment be Terminated During a Probationary Period?

For federally regulated employees governed by the Canada Labour Code, employment can be terminated during a probationary period.

If you're choosing to terminate a provincially regulated employee during probation, you need to be aware of the governing legislation and any notice required for terminations.

Do you Need to Provide Notice if you Terminate Employment During Probation Periods?

Ontario: The Employment Standards Act (ESA) states that reasonable notice or pay in lieu isn't required if the termination happens during the three-month probation period.

British Columbia: Employment Standards Act in BC states that no notice or pay in lieu is required if the person has worked for the company for less than three months. Anything over three months requires at least one week's notice or pay in lieu.

Alberta: For any dismissal during the 90-day probation period - there's no requirement for notice or pay to be given by the employer.

Manitoba: Notice of termination must be given if the employee has worked more than 29 days.

Saskatchewan: Notice of termination must be given if the employee has worked more than 13 consecutive weeks.

Managing Employees During Probation Periods

In order to make the best decision for your business for employees on their probation, you need to manage them correctly. The following are steps you can take to ensure you do this:

Set out clear expectations

Make any performance and learning goals clear to the new employee at the start of employment. However, it's important you make them manageable.

Hold regular reviews and meetings

Check-in with the probationary employee on a regular basis. This doesn't only improve the employment relationship between employer and employee but ensures you get to see their personality up close.

Provide them with real work

Ensure you provide the new employee with challenging work - this will mean you get a true reflection on whether they're correct for the role.

Employee's Rights During Probation Periods

During their probationary period, employees must be given a fair and reasonable opportunity to prove their worth to your business.

As an employer, you must act in good faith and ensure you treat staff on probation periods fairly. You must avoid violating employment standards and employment rights.

Can Employees Be Put Back on Probation as a Form of Discipline?

By law, you an employee back on probation to discipline them, If the employee has shown signs of misconduct, you may be able to terminate them for cause.

Dismissal this way means that the employee won't be owed any termination pay.

Get Advice on Probation Periods with BrightHR

You need to understand how to manage probation periods correctly and the importance of the contract being signed by both parties.

As an employer, you have a legal right to deal with probation periods properly and provide your employees with the best chance to succeed at the role. If you need advice on probation periods, BrightHR has a handy tool that will help if required.

Our BrightAdvice service allows you to receive expert employment law advice whenever required.

Contact us on 18882204924or book a demo today.

Lucy Cobb

Employment Law Specialist

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