Employment Contracts – The Importance of a Probationary Period

Employment contract: probationary periodMany South African employers are under the impression that the country’s labour laws are heavily biased in the worker’s favour. For these employers the prospect of hiring a new member of staff may bring up images of CCMA cases, fines and other negative experiences, but this doesn’t have to be the case.

Of course, labour legislation is designed to protect workers’ rights, since they are often seen to be in the weaker position, with the employer having most of the power. However, most employers who find themselves on the wrong end of the law are usually not the victims of an unfair legal system. In most cases the employer has misunderstood the labour laws and did not follow the correct procedure when hiring employees.

Fortunately, it’s not difficult to familiarise yourself with the laws governing the hiring of workers, and the first place to start is the contract of employment.

Protect Yourself with a Probationary Period

Like it or not, some people just aren’t suited to the job they happen to be doing. This fact can become glaringly obvious in the first few weeks or months of service, and if a new member of staff is obviously unable (or unwilling) to do a good job, the employer should have the option of dismissal without huge complications.

By inserting a probationary period clause into the employment contract, you cover yourself as an employer against this very situation. You need to state exactly how long the probationary period will run for, with a few months typically being the average.

Remember, a probationary period clause doesn’t give you free reign to fire an employee at random. The same guidelines apply during the probationary period as would apply with any other member of staff – the employee needs to be given a chance to learn how to do his or her job well, with performance monitoring and mentoring included. However, if the person is clearly unable to do the job, the requirements for dismissal are less strict than in the case of a long-time member of staff.

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