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Probation vs qualifying period vs minimum employment period - what's in a name?

We often get asked about how employers should treat 'probation periods' or 'qualifying periods' or 'minimum employment periods' - and what is the difference anyway? Here's five FAQs and their answers.

Q1 What is the difference between a qualifying period, minimum employment period and a probationary period?


The 'qualifying period' is the new terminology for the 'minimum employment period' brought in by Fair Work instead of the old 'probation period'. For all intents and purposes, it is the same concept, just different words.


Q2 What is the qualifying period really for?


It is designed to give employers the time to see if the new employee is a good fit. During that time, they can make a reasonable and informed decision and, if needed, terminate an employee without that employee having access to an unfair dismissal claim (be careful though, it doesn't stop other claims - see Q5).


Q3 How long can a qualifying period be?


Fair Work stipulates different lengths of time depending on the size of the organisation.

Employees employed in an organisation with less than 15 employees are subject to a 12 month qualifying period. Employees in organisations with more than 15 employees are subject to a 6 month qualifying period.

The number of employees in your organisation is based on a simple headcount including casual employees who are employed on a regular and systematic basis.


Q4 Can an employer extend the qualifying period if they are still unsure?


It depends (don't you hate that answer!?!) - you need to refer to your Contract of Employment to see the terms included there. In any case, the qualifying period cannot be extended beyond the period allowed for under Fair Work.


Q5 Are there still reasons why I shouldn't terminate an employee during probation?


It should be noted that where the employee is dismissed on grounds that could be discriminatory, or relate to the exercise of a workplace right, the employee could make an adverse action claim, which has no minimum employment qualifying period (although a claim must be made within 21 days of the dismissal).


At TalentSpring, we have a saying about the probation/qualifying period - 'use it or lose it!'. These crucial first few months should be used for providing guidance, training and heaps and heaps and heaps of feedback to your new team member. If you feel that they don't respond well to this, aren't reaching milestones or showing improvements in the areas that you need, then use this period to respectfully let them go. Once the six or twelve month deadline is up, you lose it.