An introductory period is a period of time put in place for an employer and a new employee to evaluate each other and determine if the employment relationship is a good fit. Here are a few things to keep in mind while creating or updating a new hire policy for your company's employee handbook.
Do I Need an Introductory Period?
Legally? No. As is the case with most things, though, it depends on your company's goals, it's culture, and other policies. The question you should ask yourself is: would a new hire's introductory period differ from the rest of their tenure with the company? If not, then you probably don't need to implement one.
If you do decide to implement an introductory period, it's a good idea to use that time to provide thorough onboarding, enhanced training, and extra coaching. Toward the end of the period, have a discussion with your new hire about how the first few months went and what your mutual goals are for their continuing employment. If there are any performance issues, though, you should address them as they occur, rather than waiting until the end of the introductory period.
How Long Should an Introductory Period Be?
Make it easy on yourself. Employees who will be eligible for health insurance with your organization need to have access to that insurance by their 90th day of employment, regardless of their introductory period. So, it's a good idea to just set your standard introductory period for 90 days as well. That should give each party plenty of time to evaluate the relationship.
What if My New Hire Underperforms?
A new employee who is performing poorly may still be let go during or at the end of the introductory period. The introductory period generally has no additional legal protections for either the employer or the employee. It doesn’t change the at-will relationship, nor does it allow employers to terminate. If the employee’s performance is "on the line," so to speak, they could be given a performance improvement plan at the end of the introductory period with strict expectations about what improvements are needed to remain employed. However, it is best not to extend the introductory period. Doing so could appear discriminatory.
Regardless of how long someone has been employed, though, it’s always a best practice to ensure that any performance or disciplinary issues are well-documented prior to letting them go.
Anything Else I Should Know?
Some companies still refer to introductory periods as "probationary periods." Generally speaking, you should avoid using this phrase. To begin with, "probationary" has a punitive, adversarial connotation which may erode trust. Also, courts have ruled that the term "probationary" jeopardizes the at-will employment relationship because it implies that there will be a change in the employment relationship once the probationary period has come to an end and may infer that these employees have additional employment rights at that point. Again, make it easy on yourself. Play it safe and stick to "introductory period" instead.
Get Help With Your Employee Handbook
Your policy on introductory periods is just one piece to the complicated puzzle that is your employee handbook. Fortunately, we have created a useful, free tool to help you update your current handbook or create a new one altogether. Download our Employee Handbook Roadmap today.