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Introductory Period vs. Probationary Period of Employment in California

Upon hire, many employers have a defined period of time where the employee is able to learn how to perform the job on a regular basis. The terms "introductory period" or "probationary period" may be used. What's the difference between these terms, and how should a California employer classify this period?

As an at-will state, an employee or the employer may end the employment relationship at any time. A probationary period may unintentionally imply that there is a promise of continued employment upon satisfactory completion of this period. This could lead to potential claims of wrongful termination if an employee feels an agreement was broken.

Instead of a probationary period, an employer can implement an introductory period. This is a period of time where the employer can determine if the employee can perform the job duties satisfactorily as well as if the employee is a cultural fit for the company. Your company policy should include verbiage stating that a successful completion of an introductory period does not supersede the at-will employment status. Interested in implementing an introductory period, but want to be compliant? Contact your HR consulting team for guidance.