If your organization uses a probationary period to test out employees before making permanent hiring decisions, know that you can—and perhaps should—expect more during that period than you may later. It’s not unreasonable to expect new employees to be on their best behavior.
Plus, you can immediately discharge a probationary employee even if you would reprimand or suspend a nonprobationary employee for the same offense. Just make sure you don’t hold some probationary employees to different standards than you do other probationary employees.
Recent case: Edward Brooks, then a 61-year-old black male, started working as a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officer. He had to finish a one-year probationary period before becoming a “permanent” employee. If he made it past the one-year mark, he would be subject to.
Shortly before the year ended, Brooks left work after getting a call from his banker asking him to sign loan documents. Because he left without getting permission, the VA fired him for abandoning his post. Brooks knew the work rules required him to get permission from a supervisor, but he didn’t bother seeking one out because he assumed permission would have been granted. Permanent employees would not have been fired for the same offense.
Brooks sued, but the court dismissed his case. It reasoned that employers can enforce workplace rules more stringently against probationary employees, based in part on the presumption that such employees are on their best behavior. The employer’s legitimate expectations simply can be higher during the probationary period. (Brooks v. Nicholson, No. 06-C-6966, ND IL, 2007)
Final note: Spell out the rules for probationary employees, and let them know you expect strict adherence. It’s perfectly legitimate to expect excellence.