Return of the 90-day trial: what you need to know


The newly elected Government intends to re-introduce 90-day employment trial periods, but is this a good and commercially safe way for employers to take on new personnel?

90-day trial periods have been in place previously for employers to assess new employees for suitability. They give new employees the opportunity to prove themselves, their skills, experience, and other attributes.

For the 564,000 small to medium sized enterprise (SME) businesses that employ twenty or less employees and represent 97% of businesses in NZ, the implementation of the 90-day trial period can be a challenge.

An issue that arises when introducing this into a business or managing any employment process is that many of the SME businesses have little or no documented employment processes in place, nor do they have the time or the internal resources to manage this important aspect of business.

This is one of the single major reasons why so many SME business end up in time wasting and costly employment disputes.

Many businesses engage with costly employment specialists, with franchise HR consultants, or do nothing and take the risk. This does not have to be the case.

The employment process for probationary management

The following are several easy-to-follow steps of an employment process. It is not intended as a complete list, but should be the minimum requirements that any SME business has in place for a systematic progress to minimise the risk of getting the employment process wrong.

An important part of this process is the maintaining of your employment records in either hard copy or cloud-based media.

The key actions throughout any employment process are to take your time and communicate.

Steps Action Support notes
1 The ideal person description This is a critical document and should be developed for all positions within the business. If done correctly, it will also act as the checklist for when applicants are interviewed.
2 The job description Does the business have an organisational chart?

The job description is a document that requires a lot of thought as it is important for you and the applicant to know what they are going to be responsible for, who they are accountable to and how performance will be measured.

This document becomes part of your annual staff review process.


3 The application for employment This is another critical document that sets out a wide range of questions with required answers for the employer to use in their assessment for selecting a short list of likely applicants for the position.

Concerning the Privacy Act, the questions you ask must only be relevant to the position that is being applied for and information that should be known to the applicant. For example, if the position requires that products or services be selected by colour, then the candidate can be asked if they are colour-blind, as it is relevant to the quality of the work/services, for instance an electrician working with different coloured wires.

4 The skills, qualifications and experience check list This checklist is not mandatory but something we have used with our clients with positive success. It is usually attached to the application for employment.

It is a great way to capture the experience and skills that a prospect may have for the new position.

If completed correctly this will also act as the checklist for when applicants are interviewed and could be applied if there is a future performance issue.

5 The interview and selection process This does not have to be complicated but should be undertaken in a formal and appropriate setting.

All the information previously completed by the applicant can then be used for the interview process.

Any outcomes from this meeting should be recorded and filed in the employee’s personal file.

6 The employment agreement This a mandatory obligation of all businesses with costly consequences if not completed prior to engaging the employee.

If the employee is to have a probationary period as part of their engagement, then this must be stated in this agreement.

If this is included, I would recommend that you also include a copy of the probationary assessment form that outlines the areas that the employee will be assessed against for the probationary reviews, then there are no surprises for both parties.

As the employment agreement is legally binding, it is open for negotiation between both parties and not a take it or leave it discussion which too often is the case.

Of the many stated inclusions, the statement about health and safety is paramount as this can become the saving grace for any employer, considering the proposed changes to the 2015 H&S Act, regarding responsibility and accountability.

7 The induction process If your business has this process in place, it should never be a, “read this and you will understand” exercise. It should be a structured process so that the new employee understands the company’s requirements and has access to the induction information and supporting policies with which they must comply.
8 The probationary review process This is the area where so many get it wrong.

Do not leave this review meeting till the end of the 90 days or when things go wrong.

Set the performance assessment dates for an assessment for every month for the 90 days and tell the employee of these date and the procedure for the reviews.

Use the probationary assessment checklist for this process and be prepared to listen, provide feedback, positive and constructive ideas for improvement, listen and to act on any ideas for the business. You might well be surprised what you learn about your business and identify areas for improvement.

Gordon Anderson, Hasmate Ltd Managing Director
[email protected]

Gordon has created over 200+ safe/standard operating procedures, 150+ forms, and other documentation over the 26+ years he’s worked in the health and safety industry, providing New Zealand businesses with practical methods and a common-sense approach to the development and implementation of compliance management systems.

Health and Safety Management System New Zealand | Hasmate