Extending a probationary period

Wanting more time to evaluate a new employee
By Brian Kenny
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 03/20/2013

Question: Can an employer extend a new employee's probationary period multiple times if it feels like it needs to evaluate the employee more? If probationary employees receive lower pay and no benefits, does this affect liability?

Answer: It is well established that the purpose of a probationary period is to permit the employer to assess the character and abilities of a person in the performance of particular tasks, with a view to determining her suitability for a particular job. In some cases, this probationary period may be extended to give the employer further time to evaluate the employee. The general principle is that if an employer wishes to extend the probationary period, it must specifically advise the employee of that fact during the course of the probationary period. The particular work context might also influence if, how, and when probationary periods may be extended.

In the context of a unionized workplace, the parties will sometimes spell out the rules applicable to probationary employment within the collective bargaining agreement. Often, the collective agreement will set out the requirements for extensions of a probationary period. As such, it is important to keep in mind if and how a collective bargaining agreement addresses the extension of probationary periods.