Employee introductory periods

What do they mean?

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It is very common to see policies in employee handbooks that provide for a 60 or 90-day “Introductory Period” for new employees. But what really is the legal effect of these?

Introductory, or “probationary” periods are not legal doctrines that create any specific rights in and of themselves. Rather, they are employment policies set by the employer. Nevertheless, these policies can be a useful tool for management to closely monitor an employee’s performance in the early stages of employment to determine if the employee is a good fit. Plus, such policies can establish an initial period of time during which the employee would have a lower expectation of continued employment, which could be useful if an employer had to defend itself in a claim for wrongful termination based on an implied contract of continued employment.

Any such policy should be in writing and clearly state that employment is at-will both during and after the introductory period, and that even employees who are retained beyond the introductory period can be terminated at any time and for any reason. The policy should also state that the introductory period can be extended if needed due to an employee’s absence or if further evaluation of the employee’s performance is needed.

Some introductory period policies also state that all employees will receive a formal review at the conclusion of the introductory period. There is nothing wrong with such a provision as long as it is followed, however, it is likely that employers could overlook such an obligation so soon after the employee’s hire, so the provision should be removed unless the employer actually follows-through with it for every employee.

In Coffee Break episode 20, Chris and Jennifer discuss the benefits of an introductory period policy for new hires and what considerations should go into the creation of such a policy.