Probation period dos and don’ts

Employees are a valuable asset within the workplace.  It is therefore critical to find the right person, not only with the right qualifications and experience, but who will also be compatible with the working environment and culture.  The purpose of a probation period is for the employer to assess if the employee’s performance meets the employer’s required standard.  The length of the probation period will depend on the nature of the job, as the more complex the nature of the job is, the longer the period of probation will be.  Include the probation period in the employment contract as the contract defines the terms and conditions agreed upon between the parties.    

The dos of a probation period

An employer has the following legal obligations when placing an employee on probation:

  • make it clear that the employee is on probation;
  • clarify the length of the probation period;
  • set reasonable performance standards;
  • specify and explain to the employee the performance standards required;
  • evaluate and monitor the employee’s performance regularly against the set performance standards;
  • inform the employee of performance shortcomings;
  • give the employee the opportunity to present more information and explain the situation from his/her point of view;
  • assist, guide, counsel and train the employee where necessary;
  • follow the correct disciplinary procedure or poor work performance procedure, depending on the circumstances.

The don’ts of a probation period

Poor work performance is an ever increasing challenge in the workplace and refers to an employee failing to reach and maintain the employer’s work performance standards in terms of quality and quantity.   The employer can never just terminate an employee’s services, even if the employee is on a probation period and does not perform according to the required standard.  This can lead to an unfair dismissal claim against the employer.  Labour legislation sets clear guidelines of how employers should deal with poor work performance.  Should the employee fail in this duty, despite assistance to reach the required standard, he/she is said to be “incapable” and the employer has the right to dismiss the employee.  It is vital to note that the employer can under no circumstances dismiss an employee without following the correct procedure.  All dismissals must always be procedurally and substantively fair.


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