Probation is Toothless

Shawnee Love   •  
January 31, 2012

If you are a non-unionized employer, I encourage you to rethink having a probationary period. A probationary period is toothless and has little use in today’s world.

Back in the day when we thought employees needed a stick to motivate them, a probationary period was a decent tool.  It told an employee he was under close scrutiny and if he didn’t do well, he would be let go with no extra pay owed beyond what he earned.

Things have changed and we know that sticks and stones don’t motivate, yet the probationary period persists.  Employers value the cost savings of firing without notice or pay in lieu as long as the employee is within his probationary period. However, that protection is available to employers under the various employment laws in Canada, and can be taken advantage of as long as you articulate the rules of termination in your offer letter. You don’t need to have a probationary period per se, you just need to tell people that if you part ways, you will follow employment laws in paying or providing notice (and then follow through).

Today’s reality is that employees are assessing employers as much as employers are assessing them during the first months of the employment relationship.  Furthermore, probationary periods rarely align with how long it takes to get up to speed in the job and extending probationary periods doesn’t impact the fact that you will have to pay if you fire the person after 3 months nor does it prevent the person from accessing your benefits plan if the waiting period is 3 months.

The way I see it, it is better for employers to convey to new hires that they want them to succeed rather than we are watching to see if you fail.  Probationary periods are outdated and overrated.  If you must call that period of mutual evaluation something, call it an introductory period and recognize it works both ways.