In Nagribianko v Select Wine Merchants ( 2016 ONSC 490) Sanderson J. , in an appeal from a Small Claims Court judgement, had the following comments about probationary employment :
40) A reasonable person in the same circumstances as the Respondent/Plaintiff would have understood the term “probation” to mean a period of tentative employment during which Select would determine whether the Respondent/Plaintiff would be a suitable employee and would decide whether or not to make him a regular/non probationary employee.
41) On his own evidence, the Plaintiff /Respondent understood that during the 6 month probationary period he would be at risk. He may have believed that the employer would find him to be a suitable employee, but a reasonable person in those circumstances would also have understood that that might not happen.
42) A reasonable person would have understood, and on his own evidence, the Plaintiff/Respondent did understand that probationary is inherently unstable and tentative.
43) Probationary employment, on its face and by its nature, is inconsistent with any inducement or promise of long-term employment.
I find the comment in paragraph 43 most interesting. On many occasions an employee who claims that they have been induced away from prior secure employment then signs an employment contract with a probationary clause. This case stands for the proposition that the mere existence of a probationary clause would likely negate the issue of inducement. This concept would apply whenever the employee was terminated, whether during or after the probationary period, because it is evidence at the time of hiring as to what was is the mind of the contracting parties. This case also stands for the proposition that a reasonable person, having decided to leave his or her current position and join a new employer, would know that there was not any promise of long term employment if the new agreement contained a probationary clause.
Of course, if the probationary period exceeds three months, the employee is still entitled to his termination pay under the Employment Standards Act of Ontario, even though the he or she was properly terminated pursuant to the probationary regime. Therefore a probationary clause in excess of three months should contain a clause that limits one’s recovery to a termination within the probationary period to one weeks termination pay plus benefits and accrued vacation pay, as long as the probationary period is less than one year.
In fact, if the probationary clause was in excess of three months and purported to say that an employee could be terminated within the notice period without just cause and without any notice, then there is a good argument that the entire clause would be illegal as it offends the ESA. This would mean that employer had lost the protection of the probationary clause and the employee would be entitled to common law reasonable notice.