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Delete the one word that kills at-will status

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by on
in Hiring,Human Resources

Sometimes, a single word can undermine a whole handbook’s worth of attorney-approved policy and practice. Take “probation”—please! Get rid of it! It compromises your rights as an at-will employer.

Many employers require new employees to complete an introductory period during which the company closely monitors and evaluates performance. That’s fine—such a period is a chance to evaluate a worker’s aptitude for the job and compatibility with the organization.

However, using the traditional term “probationary period” to describe this initial evaluation period has created legal problems for some employers. Several courts have concluded that the existence of a probationary period (in which employees clearly can be terminated at will) implies that employees who successfully complete the probationary period may be terminated only for cause.

Fortunately, it’s easy to use language that preserves at-will status.

Start by adding an at-will disclaimer throughout the handbook. Clearly assert your right to terminate an employee at any time for any reason or no reason at all. (Note that employees are free to quit at any time, too.) There’s nothing wrong with overkill. Place the disclaimer at the very front of your handbook and wherever else termination is addressed.

Then scour your handbook and all other materials for references to probationary periods. Call them “training” or “orientation” periods instead.

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