How do you define, in your handbook, which employees are entitled to certain benefits? In the past, employers commonly used the concept of “permanent” employee and “probationary” employee. Many employers and their employees still think in those terms.

The idea is once a new employee completes so many weeks of satisfactory employment, he or she is no longer “on probation,” and now becomes “permanent.” In addition, the employee can be either “part-time,” “temporary,” or “full-time.”

So you might overhear employees arguing whether or not an employee who qualifies for group health benefits automatically becomes a “full-time, permanent” employee. Clearly written definitions of your different types of employees will answer the question.

Written Definitions

Generally, you should have a minimum of two classes of employees: Those who qualify for benefits and those who do not. The easiest way to do this is to decide who qualifies for benefits, and then define them as “full-time.” Something like this: “A full-time employee is one who works 30 hours or more per week…”

Your organization should not have — and your policies should not use — these terms: probationary and permanent employees. The word “probationary” has this implication, once the employee completes a probationary period, the employee is a permanent staff member. And using the term “permanent” means, to the employee, he or she can be terminated only for just cause. This compromises the employment-at-will relationship that nearly all employers want to preserve.