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Orientation is a good time to assess job performance

Q: I was recently offered a job, and in the offer letter it says that I must “successfully complete my orientation period” at the company. What is an orientation period and how long does it last? Does it mean that they can’t fire me after that date?

A: Many companies’ offer letters stipulate that there is an orientation period for new hires. Sometimes it might be referred to as a probationary period, training period, or introductory period. Usually, it lasts 90 days, but you are wise to ask.

Most of our clients use a 90-day period for the orientation period, but we have a few that prefer 30 or 60 days instead. During the orientation period, an employer assesses whether the new hire can meet the performance requirements of the role. New employees, probably less formally, can use the time to make sure the job is what they expected when they took the position.

The probationary period of time sometimes, but not always, coincides with the benefits waiting period. In those cases, an orientation period may end on the same day that medical benefits kick in.

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Actually, most companies don’t use the term “probationary period” anymore. Some consider it dated language, and legal specialists say it has negative connotations in an at-will work environment. At-will means that an employer can fire you at any time, for any reason. New hires might believe that — despite working in an at-will environment — they can’t be terminated once a trial periods end, which is not true. Your employer can sever the relationship at any time for any reason.

Of course, the same holds true for an employee — you can decide to leave a company at any time without providing the boss with a reason. You are not even required to give notice, although most companies will expect you to give some reasonable notice of your intent to leave.

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Pattie Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group in Hopkinton.