A 3 month probationary period employment contract is a way for your employer to monitor your performance to assess your capabilities and appropriateness for the job. Once the probationary period is over, you might be eligible for other opportunities, such as a promotion, raise, or other position.

Probationary periods can range from one to three months but can be shorter or longer depending on the nature of the business involved.

Why Do Employers Use Probationary Periods?

There are a number of reasons an employer might require an employee to undergo a probationary period. These include:

  1. New hires. This is the most common use of a probationary period because it allows the employer to monitor the new hire and see how he or she performs under pressure. While the new employee might look good on paper, he might not have the necessary people skills or work experience to do the job in question well.
  2. Promotions. When promoting an existing employee to a new position, an employer might want a grace period to see if the move is working out. A probationary period lets them judge how well the employee is doing in the new role, especially if the employee is now acting as a supervisor.
  3. Poor performance. Sometimes, employees aren't meeting performance standards. In this case, a probationary period acts as a warning and gives the employee a chance to get his act together. He will learn about his deficiencies and work on correcting them during this period.
  4. Termination. If an employee is doing a bad job at work, a probationary period might be a way for the employer to fire them. If the employee's performance fails to improve during the probationary period, the employer has full rights to fire the employee.

How an Employer Should Initiate a Probationary Period

Most jobs are offered to employees on an at-will basis, meaning the employer can technically fire the employee at any time for any reason. However, this doesn't mean the employee has no rights while he or she is on probation. To keep things legal for both the employer and the employee, a probationary period should run like this:

  1. The employer should let the employee know that he is going through a probationary period, including the length of the probation and the reason for the probation.
  2. The employer should develop an evaluation or performance plan to help guide the employee during this period.
  3. The employer should periodically review and provide feedback to the employee so he can continue to make changes and improve performance.
  4. The employer should offer supplementary training to help the employee continue to correct deficiencies.
  5. The employer should assign the employee a mentor to help him achieve the desired standards. The employer should also get input from the employee's co-workers to better judge his performance.

When informing the employee of a probationary period, the employer should be clear that it's not a punishment. Instead, they should stress that it's a chance for the employee to learn new skills and improve his professional outlook with the company.

Legal Issues With Probationary Periods

If an employer terminates an employee after a probationary period with lackluster results, then things can get a bit tricky legally. Normally, poor work performance is legitimate grounds for firing someone. However, the employee could have a legal claim if the probationary period violated any laws.

For example, if the employee was put on probation despite it violating their employment contract, he or she could have a case against the employer. Additionally, if the probationary period was not managed as it was outlined in the official employee handbook, the employee could have a valid legal claim.

This is why an employer should always provide documentation that outlines that reasons they are firing an employee. It acts as evidence and prevents the former employee from making a case.

Employers also need to consider federal and state standards when putting workers in probationary periods. For example, if the employer continually puts every secretary in the office under probation, but no other class of workers, this could be discrimination and might give the secretaries grounds for a lawsuit.

For the best advice regarding probationary periods, speak with an employment law attorney. They can help you decide if a probation period was legal. If it wasn't, they can advise you on the best legal claim to make.

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