Any time you hire someone new you are taking a risk. While odds are the new hire is great and will fit into your organization without a hitch, what if you end up with a bad lemon? How can you ensure your business doesn’t suffer as a result of a bad hiring decision? Even with pre-employment screening and in-person interviews, there’s always the risk of making a bad hire.
The most common means of testing whether or not an employee fits within a company is through a trial period. During this time, an employee may legally be dismissed without any reason required. Trial periods can vary in length, from 30 days up to 180 days in some cases. Probably the most common employment trial period is 90 days, and with good reason.
The Ideal Trial Period Length
If you create a trial period that is too long, it can negatively affect employee morale and you might not get the best work you otherwise could have. Six months is a long time to have an uncertain employment situation, both for employer and employee. Conversely, if a trial period is too short, you may not have a full sense of an employee’s skills, work ethic, and how they fit within the company culture.
For this reason, a 90-day trial period often works best for companies. A period of 90 days allows you to get a sense of a person and how they’ll fit within the organization, without causing undue stress on the employee.
Lower Hiring Risks
Another reason that a 90-day trial employment period is ideal for companies is because it allows them to take on new employees at a lower risk. If after the trial period is up and you find that the employee does not have the skills required for the role, or their personality is not a fit for the company culture, you may terminate their employment without a complicated – or expensive – dismissal process. You’ve also got an out in case the economy turns or business declines and you cannot afford to keep them on full-time.
Keep in mind, however, that a probationary period has no bearing on whether an employer has to pay unemployment insurance, so be sure that you’re in compliance with federal and state regulations. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be required to pay unemployment benefits to an employee terminated during or immediately following probationary status, but failing to pay unemployment insurance when your company is required to do so can result in stiff penalties.
Contract Considerations and At-Will Employment
Every state recognizes at-will employment, but some states have limitations on the employment at-will doctrine. Employment at-will means that without a contract which states otherwise, an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any legal reason or for no reason at all. However, if you have a contract in place – even a trial period contract – it can be more difficult to dismiss an employee if employment continues beyond the end of the trial period.
For any trial period employment, both the employer and the employee must sign a written contract stating the provisions of the trial. This agreement must be signed before the employee beings work; otherwise, it is not enforceable, and an employee could bring a wrongful termination complaint against your business. Trials are valid for 90 calendar days, not 3 months or 90 working days.
During the period of employment, you must treat an employee on trial in the same manner as a permanent employee. You are not required to provide benefits or vacation during this time period, but you must treat the employee fairly. If you’re unclear of the laws in your jurisdiction, you should consult with legal counsel on how courts in your state have determined the legal implications of having a probationary period.
If you decide to terminate someone during their trial period, you are not required to provide a reason, however, it can be beneficial to do so. If an employee feels they were wrongly dismissed, they may come back with a grievance based on perceived discrimination or harassment. By clearly stating a reason not to continue employment, you can avoid any misunderstandings or problems down the line.
Being clear about expectations upfront, providing feedback, and keeping adequate documentation can help prevent headaches further down the line.
Pros and Cons of 90-Day Trial Period Employment for Employees
Since a 90-day trial employment period lowers the risk for companies, it allows them to hire younger or less experienced workers, as well as those re-entering the workforce. This can give new grads or those changing fields a chance at gaining some real-world experience in their chosen career.
A trial employment period gives employees the opportunity to see if they are a fit for the role and culture in the same way it does employers. This can be a benefit if you aren’t sure about the position but want to give it a shot.
Trial employment is not without its cons for employees. It can be exhausting working hard to prove yourself without all the added perks of permanent employment. And the stress of job insecurity can be problematic. There are also some employers who may abuse the 90-day trial period, though such deceptive practices are not in the company’s long-term best interests. Fortunately, these situations aren’t that common.
Ultimately, predicting how well someone will fit within a role and company based off screening and an interview is more art than science, and even the best employers get it wrong sometimes. Having a 90-day trial period is just one way to reduce the risk of a bad hiring decision, and it gives those new to the workforce an opportunity to prove their worth.