Dismissing an Employee on Probation

Jun 1, 2015

Dismissing an Employee on Probation

What is a probation period?

Many employers appoint new employees on a probation period for the wrong reasons. Many times a probation period is used as a type of ‘fixed-term’ contract in order to terminate the employee’s employment on completion of the probation period, if the employee allegedly does not meet the job requirements or even sometimes for any other inappropriate reason. Employers are under the wrong impression that it is easier to dismiss an employee who is on probation as they do not have to comply with the law. This is of course a misconception.
The purpose of a probation period is to monitor the employee’s performance to determine his/her ability to perform the functions assigned to him/her and to determine compatibility with the employer. Should the employee complete the probation period successfully, the employee should be appointed as a permanent employee, which appointment should be confirmed in writing.
A probation period is normally 3 months in duration, but could be extended for up to another 3 months, if good reasons to do so exist. A probation period should not be longer than 6 months at most. Should a newly appointed employee not meet the requirements of the job, the employer needs to follow certain steps in order to dismiss the employee lawfully.

Steps to start the dismissal process of an employee on probation

1. Clarify and communicate the performance standards to the employee.
2. Evaluate his performance: Make sure that he is given proper instruction on his tasks and how they need to be done.
3. Give him training: But if he was hired because of his qualifications, then training does not have to be given.
4. Give ongoing guidance to help him meet the standards.
5. Counsel him on poor performance. Try solve the problems together and come to a joint agreement on how to move forward.
6. Work with him to identify the reasons for poor performance.
7. Develop a plan of action with him to fix the problems.
8. Give him reasonable time to improve his performance. Be realistic about the time he can improve in.
9. Only consider dismissal if all reasonable ways of getting him to improve have been used.
10. Give him a chance to explain himself before he is dismissed.
The employer cannot just simply tell the employee that he has not made the grade and consequently dismiss him.

The following must be done before dismissing an employee on probation

  • The employee must be put on probation for a reasonable period;
  • The employee’s performance must be managed proactively and given feedback and support;
  • The employee must be given enough time to improve and must be invited to make representations before deciding to dismiss; and
  • There must be a fair reason for dismissal, although less compelling.

It is advisable to always keep a paper trail of all plans, discussions, counselling, etc. so that everything can be proved on what was done, should the employer have to face an unfair dismissal dispute at the CCMA.
The probation period could only be extended or the employee can only be dismissed after he has been invited (or his trade union or a fellow employee representative) to make representations and the employer has properly considered them.
If an employee on probation is to be dismissed, the employer must (as in any dismissal case) have a fair reason for the dismissal. The employee must be informed that he can challenge the fairness of the dismissal by referring a dispute to the CCMA or relevant bargaining council.

Disclaimer: LabourMan exclusively provides services to employers.

The content does not constitute legal advice, are not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Kindly contact us on info@labourman.co.za or 021 556 1075 to speak to one of our consultants.


Wallace Albertyn

Wallace Albertyn is a Senior Associate and Legal Advisor at LabourMan Consultants.

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