Trial Periods: How to do it right first time

Trial Periods prove Successful

Trial Periods can be of great benefit to employer and employee when set up correctly.

A Trial Period Case Study

An offer of employment was made by Honic Properties Ltd (HPL) by e-mail to Mr. Blackmore.  In the offer reference was made to a Federated Farmers employment contract but this was not sent with the offer from HPL.  Mr. Blackmore accepted the offer without realising that contract had a 90 day trial period, handed in his notice with his current employer, worked out his notice period and started his new job.

On arrival at HPL he was presented with the employment contract and asked to sign it before starting work.  He signed the contract, only then realising there was a 90 day trial period.  Unfortunately he was dismissed during the 90 day trial period and found himself without a job, shocked and disgruntled.

He decided to go to the Employment Relations Authority and dispute the dismissal.  The ERA referred the case to the Employment Court which agreed that Mr. Blackmore had a case as his employment actually commenced with the original acceptance of the employment agreement – or at the latest on his first day at work – thus the 90 day trial period was not valid.

Although he was asked to sign the Federated Farmers contract on arrival he had no chance to get advice on the contract nor could he negotiate before starting the job.  In the opinion of the Employment Court this was considered to be an unfair bargaining practice.

Best practices for the 90 day trial period:

  • Ensure any potential employee is aware of the trial period – show good intent
  • The inclusion of a trial period should be discussed and a copy supplied before a binding offer of employment is made.  A potential employee has the right to get advice on such a contract before signing it.
  • Some prospective employees may wish to negotiate points in the agreement, they should have the chance to do this with you.
  • The trial period clause of the contract should state that the employer can dismiss the employee during the trial period, this will negate the employee being able to bring a personal grievance claim against the employer.
  • The agreement must be signed before the employee starts work taking into account points a-d and not as the case study above.  To get the best out of the trial period make sure the new employee is given as much training as necessary and there are ongoing checks to iron out any problems which may arise.  The reason for a trial period is to make sure the job is working for both the employer and employee.

Understanding the ins and outs of the 90 day trial period is essential for employers.  Hiring new staff and getting them settled in can be a costly business so the last thing you need is  dismissal dispute costs on top of that along with the inevitable workplace disruption.