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Human Resources

Introducing Your Workplace to an Introductory Period Policy

Tonya Fletcher SPHR, SHRM-SCP
by Tonya Fletcher SPHR, SHRM-SCP on August 4, 2022
What is your standard operating procedure when it comes to new hires?
 
Some businesses are keen to send employees off to the races as soon as they’ve signed their W-4s, while others opt to take a little time and evaluate whether employees meet their needs.
 
In the latter category, a common tactic is to implement an introductory period policy. This offers employees and employers the opportunity to determine whether the placement will be a good match for both parties.
 
Introductory periods can be a beneficial tool; however, before you decide to implement one, there are a few things you need to know.
 
Keep reading to learn about the following:
  • What an introductory period is
  • What an introductory period isn’t
  • Why an introductory period might benefit your business
  • Wow to effectively establish and maintain introductory period policies
What is an Introductory Period?
 
An introductory period is a period of time you define as an employer, during which you intend to observe and evaluate an employee who is new to a position.
 
During the course of the predetermined timeframe (usually somewhere between 60 and 90 days), you and your employee have the opportunity to get a sense for whether you feel that the professional partnership will be a good fit.
 
This primary phase of employment is usually accompanied by certain policies and benefits restrictions, including performance evaluations and limited sick leave or vacation time.
 
While the term introductory period may make you think of a new employee, it can also apply to existing employees who have been promoted or moved to a new position (such as an associate-level employee who has been transferred to a management role).
 
What is an Introductory Period Not?
 
Another term that’s often used interchangeably with introductory period is probationary period. While these terms are similar in intent, they differ in their implications.
 
The term probationary period stems from employee protections offered by labor unions: These unions generate collective bargaining agreements that provide legal protections against employment termination.
 
Employers are, in exchange, warranted a period of time when a new employee starts, during which they are free to terminate the employee for any reason within legal bounds.
 
This gets a bit more complicated, however, when at-will employment is taken into account.
In nearly every part of the United States, businesses operate under the at-will employment doctrine, meaning that an employee can quit–or be terminated–from a position at any time (so long as it is legally permissible).
 
That being said, in many of these states, at-will employment can be altered or voided due to certain circumstances that could initiate or imply a change in their at-will employment status.
 
One such example is using the term “probationary period. This term has been interpreted unfavorably by courts in that it suggests obligations that make it more difficult to terminate the employee “at-will” after they are no longer “on probation status.”
 
Due to the critical importance of clarity when it comes to employment, many have drawn a line between the terms introductory period and probationary period.
 
While it remains necessary to be very clear about terms of employment when using the term introductory period, it can help to mitigate confusion surrounding implied protections when a worker continues employment beyond their initial 60-90 days.
 
Why Might an Introductory Period Be a Good Idea?
 
To begin with, an introductory period can serve as a framework for orientation procedures.
 
By establishing an allocated period of time for new employees, or existing employees in new roles, to receive special attention, a business can ensure that these individuals are given the tools and training they need to be successful in their new roles.
 
What’s more, introductory periods can assist with cost-saving efforts. 
 
Between wages and benefits offerings, hiring a new employee can be a very costly effort. For this reason, a business may choose to reduce wages and restrict access to benefits for a time during the introductory period.
 
In this way, companies can avoid the unnecessary expenditures that come with full onboarding until they have a good sense that the employee will be a long-term fit.
 
One final advantage to introductory periods is that they can set a high bar for employees, encouraging them to establish good habits from the beginning of their employment.
 
The habits an employee develops early in their time with a company are much easier to carry throughout the duration of their employment. By setting standards upfront with proper support and guidance, you can help your employees carry good work habits with them beyond the completion of the introductory period.
 
How to Implement and Manage Introductory Periods
     

1. Decide Whether It’s Appropriate

While we’ve covered the benefits of having an introductory period, we’ve also mentioned that they carry some potential legal risks.
 
In some cases, a company may decide that the risk of compromising at-will employment status outweighs the benefits.
 
Therefore, the initial step is to consider whether an introductory period policy is feasible, given the location, industry, and other circumstances of your business.
 
We recommend consulting with a team of experts, such as our team here at FrankCrum. Our HR professionals are experienced in matters surrounding risk mitigation and can help to ensure your business’ protection when implementing new policies.
 

2. Develop the Policy Prior to Hiring

If you determine that you do want to establish an introductory period policy in your organization, ensure that you set a uniform policy prior to recruitment or onboarding efforts.
 
Establishing a standardized policy will not only help you to be consistent but will also help you to measure the effectiveness of the program accurately.
 
A few things to make clear in your policy are:
  • Expectations–What are the goals your employee should be striving for? Be sure that they understand this, as well as how they will be evaluated on their progress.
  • Duration–How long will the introductory period last? Specify this, as well as any potential for extension.
  • Restrictions–What restrictions, if any, are placed on the employee during their introductory period? Your established policy should advise employees as to whether they will be unable to utilize certain employment benefits such as vacation/sick time.
  • At-will employment–How will the terms of the employee’s at-will employment status be affected, if at all? Make it clear whether at-will employment is to continue beyond completion of the introductory period and that a permanent employment relationship does not exist.

3. Decide Which Employees are Subject to the Introductory Period

Before an employee is hired or transferred to a new position, be sure to identify whether or not they will be subject to the introductory period and make the initial employment status known to the employee. Be certain, if not applying an Introductory Period across all jobs, that you establish your policy in a non-illegally discriminatory way.
 
If the introductory period policy will apply, be sure to follow the guidelines that have been established.
 
It is also advisable to implement a method of monitoring the employee’s progress.
 
Set a schedule with benchmark accomplishments to achieve along the way and devote sufficient time and resources toward your employees’ professional development. In this way, you can help to supply them with the necessary tools for success in their new position.
 
In Conclusion
 
Establishing an introductory period policy for your business may be a great tactic for upfront evaluation and assessment of new employees, or existing employees in new roles.
 
However, it’s important to consider the implications of doing so.
 
Our team of HR professionals at FrankCrum is here to help you ensure that your policies are in compliance with all state and local laws. Contact us today to speak with an expert and learn more about how a PEO partnership with FrankCrum can benefit your business!
Tonya Fletcher SPHR, SHRM-SCP
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tonya Fletcher SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Tonya is the Labor Compliance Manager at FrankCrum. In this role, she leads the FrankAdvice team of HR consultants and manages the delivery and content of best practice HR information to client owners and managers. When she’s not at work, Tonya enjoys international travel.