In June 2012 we posted an article highlighting the importance of employers, who want to rely on a 90 day trial period, ensuring that all new employees sign their employment agreement containing the trial period before their first day of work. The Employment Court has now set out a further requirement, namely that trial periods in employment agreements must be provided to prospective employees at the same time as, and as part of, making an offer of employment to the proposed employee in order for an employer to rely on them.
In Blackmore v Honick, the employee was offered employment in writing and accepted such in writing (by email). The written offer set out a number of the terms of employment and stated that a written contract, containing those terms, would be provided to the employee after he accepted the position. No mention was made of a trial period. He subsequently resigned from his previous employment and commenced work with the employer. At that time (shortly after he started work) he was presented with an employment agreement containing the trial period which he signed. Some time later but before the end of the 90 day trial period, the employer terminated his employment in reliance on the trial period.
The Employment Court subsequently held the employer could not rely on the trial period when dismissing the employee as the employee was already an employee when he signed the agreement.* The Court stated that, in the context of a trial period, an employment relationship begins as soon as an employee is offered and accepts employment. As the employee had accepted the job offer prior to signing the employment agreement, he was not bound by the trial period contained in it.
The Court held further that, in general, in order for employees to be regarded as not having been previously employed by an employer, the trial period must be agreed in writing before the employee begins work. More particularly, trial periods in employment agreements must be provided to prospective employees at the same time as, and as part of, making an offer of employment to the proposed employee in order for an employer to rely on them.
The further moral of the story therefore is if you, as an employer, want to safeguard your ability to rely on a 90 day trial period, make sure that any offer of employment to a new employee is accompanied by something in writing (preferably the employment agreement) setting out the inclusion in the offer of a 90 day trial period, and its scope/terms.
* The Employment Relations Act provides that a 90 day trial period can only apply in respect to new employees.