Employee probation is a period of time when an employee will be carefully scrutinized to determine if that person should continue to remain with the company. There are two forms, new employee probation and disciplinary probation. In both cases, the terms must be clearly communicated to the employee so she understands why a period of probation is being instituted and what kind of things the company will use during an evaluation. Employee handbooks usually provide this information and employees may be required to sign a document indicating their understanding and acceptance of the terms.
In the case of new employee probation, people who are new to the company may be accepted on a trial basis for varying lengths of time, from two weeks to several months. During this period, the employee is trained, gets to know people at the company, and gets an understanding of the job. Either party can decide to terminate employment with no hard feelings at the end of the probation period, for reasons ranging from a realization that the job isn't what was expected to concerns about an employee's ability to do a job correctly. Release after new employee probation does not create a black mark on someone's employment record, but merely reflects the fact that a job did not work out.
As a disciplinary tool, employee probation is more serious. Employees are usually given verbal and written warnings first, clearly identifying the problem and providing information about how to address it. If the employee doesn't respond or performance doesn't improve, the employee can be placed on probation. During the probation period, the employee is monitored for signs of improvement. People may be asked to complete certain tasks, such as taking a sexual harassment awareness course, with the goal of modifying their behavior.
If the employee continues to experience problems during this disciplinary period, the company can provide warnings or decide to release him. At the end of the probation, the employee has a meeting with a supervisor, who provides information about whether he will continue with the company, and why. Supervisors may also develop action plans to help employees avoid going on probation again, such as creating a checklist for future employee reviews that the employee and supervisor can use to assess the employee's job performance and behavior as objectively as possible.
There are usually legal protections in place to prevent wrongful dismissal. For this reason, companies are very careful when they place employees on probation to provide warnings and clear direction about why the employee is being disciplined. The employer must also show employees what they need to do in order to improve and be allowed off probation. Failure to provide employees with this information can result in a lawsuit in the future.