We saw an interesting question come across our desks recently in an email: “Are employers required to have an introductory period for new employees?” We will cut to the chase and tell you right up front that the HR professional answering the question said, “No, you don’t.” It’s been a long-standing practice of many companies to have a 30, 60, or 90 day period that they call an “introductory period,” but there is no legal requirement to do so…however, this is one of those times when it’s a good idea anyway.
Not On Probation
Before we go further we want to address the older practice of calling this period of time a “Probationary Period.” This term seems to go back to what labor unions would call the initial time frame of a new employees tenure when they were not covered under the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the employer. Once the period was complete, the employee got full rights under that agreement. The idea carried over to non-union jobs but without the conference of additional rights after the time frame was complete…and this eventually led to legal trouble.
More recent court decisions have made it more clear that if an employer has a “probationary period” (and calls it that), that the implication is that there are additional employment rights granted the employee after the time frame is over, even in at-will work states. So…probationary periods magically became introductory periods.
Still A Good Idea
As stated above, it’s not legally mandated that a company gives employees an introductory period, however, it still can be an excellent idea as it has advantages to both you and the person you are hiring. A 60 to 90-day introductory period can give you a chance to watch a new employee closer, scrutinize their performance, and assess whether their performance and skills are adequate for the job, as well as whether they fit in well with the company culture.
While you may be watching for evidence of their skill set, the employee can be using that time to become acclimated to their new role while adapting and honing their skills to the tasks at hand. You may have hired them because of what they were able to demonstrate at a previous job, but it may take some time to become as effective in a new environment.
During this adjustment period they need to learn new job functions, meet and learn the habits of new colleagues, and become familiar with your company’s policies. If they are under the auspices of an “introductory period,” this process can take place without as much stress and anxiety.
You, as the employer, may find this time especially helpful in being able to offer critical feedback and coaching to the new hire as you see the things they are not doing up to your standards. This can be a time when you can clarify your expectations for the job and help get the employee aligned with the company.
Some companies have taken to calling the time an “evaluation period” and it’s important to note that this evaluation goes both ways. The employee needs time to see the company “in action,” to learn the policies and standards…and decide if this is really a good workplace for them.
For the new employee, this introductory period may serve as a milestone…a time frame in which they can expect to get up to speed with the new place and decide whether or not they want to commit to staying there longer term.
For the employer, it gives them time to gradually get that employee to where they want them to be…because hiring someone new and training them is a costly prospect! You don’t want to have to keep going back to the well, looking for someone new, and beginning this process all over again.
How do you reward the employee for completing the introductory period? That’s up to you and your company policy, but some companies start vacation and sick time accrual or full medical benefits kicking in after that point.
Whatever you decide to do, I can’t stress enough…make it part of your company’s documentation…put it in the employee handbook! It’s always a great idea to keep a record of what the expectations are for new employees and when they are expected to meet them…and to make that information plain and easily findable for those employees.