Probationary employment may involve an actual written agreement with your employer but, more commonly, an employer will tell you orally or describe in your employee handbook that your job is probationary. The information might be included in an employee handbook or posted on the lunchroom wall as a notice to all new employees. Generally, probation has no legal impact. It doesn't override other aspects of employment law.
Probation Can Happen at Any Time
Probationary employment is typically associated with your first months on the job. Both you and your employer understand that your position is subject to a trial period. If you do well and if you're suitable for the job, you will become permanent. If you're guilty of some wrongdoing, your employer can also place you on probation. If you can overcome your mistake, you'll most likely keep your job. However, this sequence of events is "implied," based on an unwritten understanding between you and your boss. Legally, your boss does not have to keep you on after your probation period ends.
Probationary Employment Has Little Legal Impact
Virtually every state is an "at will" employment jurisdiction. This means your boss has the right to fire you for almost any reason that does not involve discrimination. A probationary employment period doesn't override at-will employment law. You're not guaranteed a job at the end of probation, and your employer can let you go during the probation period.
Probation and Unemployment Benefits
In most states, unemployment laws are based on how long you've worked. If you're dismissed during your probationary period, you may or may not be able to collect unemployment insurance. It usually depends on how long you've worked for all employers, not just the one who fired you. If you accumulate enough hours while you're on probation, you can collect unemployment even if you never worked for anyone else before. Your probationary status doesn't affect your eligibility.
Probation and Health Insurance Benefits
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), protects your right to continue health insurance benefits when you change jobs or you're fired, assuming you had benefits in the first place. Private employers are usually within their rights to withhold health benefits until you've worked for them a certain period of time. Most small employers aren't legally obligated to provide health insurance at all. Probation wouldn't affect your benefits in either case.
An Employment Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding probationary employment is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact an employment lawyer.