Probationary Period - your questions answered

Probationary Period

Organisations or employers seeking HR support can call iHR Australia on 1300 884 687 or make an online enquiry.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is a Probationary Period?

The probationary period is the initial period of employment during which an employer can carefully consider whether the new team member is able to meet the standards and expectations of the job and if they should be offered a permanent position. This concept of a “trial period” has long been accepted at common law and in industrial awards.

The relevance of a probationary period is acknowledged in the Fair Work Act 2009. This legislation excludes employees who have not successfully completed a 6 month “minimum employment period” from lodging a claim for unfair dismissal. The minimum employment period for a small business (less than 15 full time equivalent employees) is 12 months.

2. What is the purpose of a Probationary Period?

The probationary period is an important part of the recruitment and selection process of new team members. This period is used for the continuing evaluation and assessment of a team member’s suitability to their newly appointed position, and to assess a number of factors including suitability for the job, standards and behaviour and culture fit.

Probation provides an opportunity for the close supervision, monitoring and assessment of a team member’s work performance during the initial period of employment. The probationary period provides the first real opportunity to assess a new team member’s demonstrated suitability for the job they were selected for, and for their ongoing employment.

A probationary period enables the manager and the new team member to identify relevant strengths and weaknesses in conduct and work performance and to take any necessary remedial action. It also allows the manager to assess how well the new team member is fitting into the role and gives them time to review and adapt training for the new employee.

Monitoring of the team member’s performance during the probationary period ensures they are learning the tasks associated with the job correctly, are not picking up any bad habits, and are meeting expectations.

During the probationary period all relevant legislation such as discrimination, harassment, bullying, etc, applies to the employment, so the manager needs to apply all human resources policies to the employment.

3. An on-boarding program

To ensure new team members feel engaged, productive and part of the team from day one, creating the right induction experience whereby the employer aims to prepare and integrate new team members into the organisation’s systems, culture and methodologies is advisable.

On a team member’s first day a manager may wish to issue a welcome letter and go through induction materials to explain and work through the first week(s) of the team member’s new role.

4. Performance Feedback

Throughout the probationary period, the manager should provide the team member with regular feedback on their performance. Feedback can be provided informally or during a formal meeting. When providing feedback whether formally or informally, it is important to address any concerns in a timely manner. So if a team member does something “right” or something “wrong” let them know immediately – do not “save up” any issues for the formal meeting.

Employers may wish to implement a process whereby new team members undertake a probationary period review at:

  • 3 months (part 1- midway) and
  • Prior to the completion of 6 months (part 2- final).

This provides both the team member and manager the ongoing opportunity to assess whether basic requirements of the position have been met and to measure performance against criteria such as personal qualities, quality of work, quantity of work, position knowledge, customer service, communication, problem solving and decision making, team work, work ethic and behaviour.

5. Guide to Performance Feedback Meetings

  • Advise the team member that they may have a support person present at the meeting;
  • Try to ensure the meeting takes place in a private location free from interruptions;
  • Allow the team member to respond to the issues you have raised and provide them with the opportunity to discuss their performance and behaviour;
  • Ensure that the team member’s responses to feedback is documented;
  • Outline the expectations of the position and if not already done so, describe how the team member can work towards meeting these expectations;
  • Encourage the team member to articulate their training/guidance needs and discuss how these can be achieved;
  • Set measurable performance goals and if required allow reasonable and mutually agreed timeframes for improvement;
  • Set an appropriate review date (no later than 4 weeks after the initial meeting);
  • It is important that the team member understands that if work performance does not improve then his or her employment may be terminated;
  • Keep a record of the meeting including dates, what was discussed and the agreed actions or outcomes. Provide a copy of this to the team member.

6. Prior to the End of the Probationary Period

Prior to the end of the probationary period, the employer will need to assess whether the team member’s employment should be made permanent or whether the team member’s appointment be terminated.

7. Successful completion of probation

On successful completion of the probation period and review, the relevant manager should issue a letter to the new team member confirming their ongoing employment.

8. Do casual and temporary team members have a probationary period?

Casual team members and temporary team members are exempt from a probationary period. This is because, by nature of the type of employment, casual and temporary team members are deemed terminated at the end of their last shift and cannot reasonably foresee an ongoing employment relationship.

However, a casual team member who has been employed for more than 6 months, and whose engagement has been regular and systematic, is eligible to lodge a claim for unfair dismissal. This means that you should assess the suitability of a casual team member for continued employment and make a decision about their continued engagement in the first six months of their employment.

9. What should I do if a new team member is clearly unsuitable for their role?

From time to time it becomes clear very early that the new team member does not meet the requirements of the position and is unlikely to meet the requirement of the position within the probationary period.

You do not have to wait until the end of the probationary period before taking action. The decision to terminate the appointment can take place at any time within the probationary period.

10. If I am still uncertain about the suitability of a team member after 6 months can I extend the probationary period?

Probation periods cannot be extended beyond 6 months. If a team member continues to be engaged after the 6 month probationary period, they are considered to have completed their minimum employment period and enjoy full rights to take unfair dismissal action.

When reviewing the performance of an employee, you should consider that the behavioural characteristics being displayed are unlikely to improve once the employee completes probation. An employee “on trial” during probation is likely to be motivated to display their best available behaviours. This is why it is important to address performance concerns and give the employee a chance to improve so that a manager assessing the employee can gain a reasonable insight into what the employee is capable of and how they fit in to the team.

It is also helpful to ensure employees are informed of the purpose of the probationary period, the expectations of the role and encouraged to seek guidance or clarification on tasks or responsibilities. Team members should also be encouraged to actively assess whether they feel the organisation and position are suitable for them.

11. What must I do if I decide to terminate a team member’s employment during probation?

If the decision is made to terminate the team member’s contract of employment, the team member should be advised of their termination and the reason they are being terminated. They should also be given:

  • the appropriate written notice (as contained in the employee’s contract) or payment in lieu of notice;
  • payment of all accrued entitlements;
  • a Separation Certificate; if one is requested;
  • a Certificate of Service, if one is requested.

12. What notice must a team member give to me during their probationary period?

A notice period will be contained in the employee’s contract which may provide for a shorter notice period during probation, such as one week applying to termination initiated by either the employer or the team member. This notice is required to be in writing.

Last updated 21 November 2013

Need help or more information?

Organisations or employers* seeking support and information call 1300 884 687 or make an online enquiry.

*Please note; iHR Australia provides advice and support to organisations and employers only. Individuals seeking advice should contact the Fair Work Commission by calling 1300 799 675 or via fwc.gov.au 

The Executive Coaching Process

Phase 1: Confirming Expectations

Purpose:

To have a clear understanding of the coaching work between the individual, their manager, the organisation and the Coaching Consultant.

A meeting is conducted between the Coaching Consultant and the sponsor of the coaching project. During this meeting the following is clarified:

  • Determine scope of coaching;
  •  Establishing expectations.

Results:

What is expected from the coaching (e.g. behaviour change, interpersonal skills, productivity, specific skill building, attitude change, career alignment etc).

Accountability:

What is the role of individual’s manager in establishing goals and evaluating progress.

Who is the Coach’s contact person in the organization.

Confidentiality:

Whether/what type of information from the coaching relationship is shared with the organization. 

Phase 2: Assessment & Analyses

Purpose:  

Gather in depth information to define the individual’s needs for development. We may also identify other factors affecting the individual’s performance (e.g., business objectives, team structure, staffing, and market conditions). The assessment phase is comprised of two parts:

(a) Informal Assessment

A structured interview is conducted to diagnose and assess:

  • Key strengths, motivations and development needs
  • The requirements of the individuals’ current position, their role in the organisation and the organisations business objectives

(b) Formal Assessment

Individual profiling is incorporated as part of the assessment phase to assist in identifying specific development needs. The most useful areas are:

  • Managerial Skills: To identify strengths and areas for development such as task management skills, team development skills, personal skills, and leadership skills amongst others
  • Managerial Styles: To assess an individual’s management style.  This raises an individual’s awareness of their own management style and assists them to apply the most effective style in a particular situation
  • Emotional Intelligence: To assess ability to deal with everyday environmental demands and pressures
  • Personality Profiles  To identify personal qualities that influence behaviour at work
  • Work life Balance: To assess overall well being and management of stress       
  • Values and Beliefs: To assess the qualities of work that an individual values highly. This relates closely to an individuals work satisfaction.

Phase 3: Set Strategic Interventions

Purpose:

Provide feedback to the individual on assessment outcomes and discuss strategic intentions and outcomes.

Based on the individuals’ needs assessment (both formal and informal) a very accurate profile is created of the individual’s strengths, operating styles and area for development. The assessment outcomes are reported back to the individual and specific and realistic goals are set which target the areas for development.

Phase 4: Develop Action Plans

Purpose:

To establish action plan which is broken down into measurable outcomes.

From the carefully determined goals an action plan is developed which focuses on strategies to achieve the desired results. Strategies are agreed upon and broken down into actions so that progress and be accurately and objectively measured. The individual’s commitment to action and accountability is central to this process.

Phase 5: Coaching & Implementation

Purpose:

To provide resources and structure to assist the individual to reach their goals.

This is a critical part of the coaching process whereby the Coaching Consultant and the individual schedule regular meetings to work on the achievement of goals. Typically this process may last from 4-12 months. This is important for assisting motivation and for assuring and refining behavioural changes.

Experiential methods are used to enhance the insight and learning required to facilitate the transform of consistent and sustained behaviour change to the workplace.

Phase 6: Monitor, Review & Evaluate

The review and evaluation phase assesses the individual’s progress towards achievement of goals.

Feedback from direct reports may be sighted at this stage to provide objective assessment of behaviour change. This process is conducted confidentially with the individual and their direct reports.

The success of the coaching program is determined by the assessment of achievement of goals and also by the assessment of the individual’s perception of progress.

Once the individual’s goals have been achieved, the coaching process has reached the completion stage. However should additional development needs be identified during the evaluation process, new goals are defined and actioned upon.

The review and evaluation phase ensures that the individual maintains focus, direction and motivation to achieve their goals.

Find out more

To find out more about iHR Australia’s Executive Coaching services please contact us on 1300 884 687 or make an online enquiry.

Preparing for a Workplace Investigation and Workplace Investigation Plan

Things that need to be considered when planning for an investigation include:

  • Whether you are the right person to investigate this matter, i.e. is there a conflict of interest due to a relationship with either of the parties / skill / availability;
  • Identify and categorise the nature of the complaint;
  • Identify the parties to the matter and their location and availability – Complainant(s) / Respondent(s) / Witnesses / Other interested parties such as Unions etc; and
  • Obtain any relevant background information available, including:
    • Any relevant investigation protocols;
    • Complaint document(s);
    • Relationships (organisational structure);
    • Relevant policies and procedures and codes of conduct;
    • Enabling legislation;
    • Training records;
    • Position descriptions;
    • Employment contracts. Establish if covered by an Award or Workplace Agreement and any relevant term(s) or obligations;
    • Past performance reviews / Employment records / CV’s;
    • How previous incidents have been managed, relevant operational processes and procedures;
    • Previous investigations / complaints / observed patterns of behaviour; and
    • Environmental factors such as industrial climate, structural change operational pressures, threat of job loss etc.;
  • Determine an appropriate location for interviews and administrative matters such as who organises the interview times etc. Take into consideration geographical factors for interviews such as work locations and travelling times, and availability of parties if involved in shift work, weekend work or currently on leave etc;
  • Consider representation matters i.e. union availability etc.;
  • Be realistic in scheduling appointment times. Allow at least 2-3 hours with the complainant and a similar time with the respondent and 1 hour for each witness;
  • Who will be interviewed, in what order?
  • Prepare an interview question guide based on the allegations;
  • Review the plan after initial interviews with the complainant(s) and the respondent(s);
  • Allow for a second interview with both the complainant and the respondent to provide them feedback from the initial round of interviews and particularly around any conflict in evidence or statements that you do not feel have been supported in the investigation thus far.