No one wants to make a hiring mistake. And certainly it’s no small task to sift through a pile of résumés and find the one or two perfect candidates … especially at a time when résumé spamming is on the increase, often bringing you hundreds of seemingly irrelevant applicants.
To cut the risk of a bad hire, some companies are turning to employee trial periods, where a job candidate is essentially auditioning for a job by working for the employer on a trial basis. But the legal community warns that trial period policies can actually be more harmful than helpful. And there are specific types of jobs where these candidate auditions don’t work well.
Advantages of a preemployment trial period
There are definite benefits to both job applicants and employers to having a trial period. Candidates find out exactly what they’re getting into before accepting a position. And job applicants with little work experience, e.g., new college graduates, get an opportunity to show an organization what they can do, even though it doesn’t appear on their résumé.
The obvious benefit to an employer is that they get a chance to see an employee in action in an authentic work setting before they make a commitment. And they minimize their reliance on traditional (sometimes subjective) hiring methods: Résumés, interviews and references.
Disadvantages of a preemployment trial period
“Not all positions lend themselves to candidate auditions,” suggests Sarah Max for nytimes.com. One example would be candidates for executive positions. Fortunately, these applicants usually have an extensive work history that can more easily be used to gauge future performance. It would also be difficult to use a trial period on certain sales positions where candidates need to build relationships or client bases in order to meet sales goals.
Additionally, while this preemployment period attempts to create an authentic work situation, candidates are obviously aware that their work is on display. Just as in an interview setting, the potential hire’s behavior during the trial period may not be sustainable or authentic.
Not every candidate will be available or willing to work on a trial basis, especially if they’re leaving another job to work for you. This risk could drive many applicants away.
Consider the legal aspects of a preemployment trial period
If you think that hiring someone on a trial basis gives you more freedom to fire them, you are mistaken, suggests Amara Marcoccia for trinet.com. “Probationary periods make sense when employers have collective bargaining agreements with unions requiring employers to have cause to discharge an employee,” says Marcoccia. In these cases, an employer negotiates a probationary period, enabling them to fire an employee without “cause” and without the employee having access to the union grievance procedures or arbitration.
Most states already have employment-at-will doctrines—giving employers the ability to terminate an employee for any legal reason or for no reason at all. However, having a probationary period contract may muddy the water. Once the employee passes the probationary period, some courts may imply a contract of employment—making it harder to fire someone after the trial period.
Moving forward with a preemployment trial period or assignment
While a preemployment trial period is clearly voluntary, it must be agreed to in writing by both employer and employee, ziprecruiter.com advises job seekers. A candidate should know how they’re being evaluated, what the employer’s looking for and what happens at the end of the probationary period. Pay and benefits should be discussed up front. An example of a probationary period contract can be found here. And a second probationary period should never be used to extend the temporary status.
If the assignment or trial is brief and unpaid, employers must be able to show that the work being produced is used for evaluative purposes only, suggests pdassociates.co.nz, so you don’t encounter disputes over the creation of intellectual property (ownership of the ideas or work developed during the tryout). If you’re evaluating a cook, the food he or she creates can’t be served to customers; in the case of a blog writer, the work can’t be posted by the company. It also needs to be clear that the trial doesn’t constitute a job offer.
While preemployment trial periods or assignments seem to offer a more solid way of making hiring decisions, they come with their own set of hurdles. It’s important to get legal advice before initiating these types of program.