On probation at work? Here is all you need to know
Most of us know that every new employee in the private sector has to complete a period of probation. This enables the employer to assess the employee and their abilities, and determine their suitability for the tasks assigned to them. It also enables the employee to make the same assessment.
Unfortunately, there is a random aspect to some probation periods, and some employers exploit and mistreat staff on probation. Others overlook that an employee on probation still has full legal rights and responsibilities, including medical insurance.
Such exploitation is common in organizations that work on several simultaneous projects, and in academic institutions. Unscrupulous employers exploit an employee’s natural enthusiasm at the start of a new job, and they make vague promises about what the future holds when the probation period is over. Then, when the project is complete, the employee’s contract is terminated, often for spurious reasons. Thus the employer obtains maximum effort from the employee for a brief period, which the employee believes is merely the prelude to the promised benefits and rights.
Some employers use probation periods as a way to artificially inflate their level of Saudization in order to comply with Ministry of Labor requirements. Others exploit employees by using oral rather than written probation agreements, and then lay off the employee without pay.
Of course, exploitation of the probation system is not one-way traffic. Some employees terminate the contract for selfish reasons; they may have taken a job merely to assist with a loan application, and they may also exhibit recklessness or lack of discipline.
Saudi labor law gives freedom to the parties to the contract to determine the probation period. Usually, it should not exceed 90 days, but may be extended to 180 days, excluding official holidays and sick leave. The type of contract should also be specified in the agreement. If it is not, it is automatically considered to be an indefinite term contract. If both parties agree to terminate the contract, no compensation is payable.
It is not permitted for an employee to be on probation more than once with the same employer, unless both parties have agreed to a second trial period of no more than 90 days in another profession.
Based on precedent (it is not specified in the law), if neither party wishes to terminate an employment contract at the end of the probation period, this is considered implicit consent to proceed.
How might the law be improved? There could be more control over the termination of a contract at the end of, or during, the probation period. Reasons should be given for termination, and if no reasonable explanation is provided, damages may be imposed. This would encourage a serious working relationship, with commitment from both parties, and reduce the waste of time and effort.
I also suggest stricter regulations for the registration of employees on probation for social insurance, and for Saudization. Registration should happen only at the end of the probation period, thus preventing exploitation.
Everyone, including employees, should take the responsibility of learning about labor rights, which will contribute to their knowledge of each other’s duties and responsibilities. With such awareness and education, many of these problems, which concern one of the most important elements of life, can be avoided.
• Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi legal consultant, head of the health law department at the law firm of Majed Garoub and a member of the International Association of Lawyers. Twitter: @dimah_alsharif