Probationary employee: Must trial period be reasonable?

Larry Benson was unhappy at his job as an apprentice mechanic and started answering want ads. He clicked on his third interview and was hired by an automotive parts manufacturing company as a probationary employee subject to a 30-day trial period.
By Raymond Dreyfack July 1, 1999

Larry Benson was unhappy at his job as an apprentice mechanic and started answering want ads. He clicked on his third interview and was hired by an automotive parts manufacturing company as a probationary employee subject to a 30-day trial period. Benson quit his job and reported to work the following week.

He lasted 2 1/2 days.

“What about my probationary period?” he protested. “I’m entitled to a fair chance to prove I can handle the job.”

“Under the circumstances,” Maintenance Foreman Chuck Carlson replied, “your trial period was more than fair. In fact, it was 1 1/2 days too long.”

“How do you figure that?”

Carlson pulled Benson’s employment application from a drawer. “It states here that you have experience reading blueprints and diagrams, and that you’re familiar with testing sprinkler systems and checking gauges. We both know you have no such experience.”

Benson lowered his eyes. “Okay, maybe I exaggerated a little, but I’m still entitled to a chance to prove myself. I quit another job on that basis. I’m a fast learner; I’d have no problem picking up that stuff. I was promised a 30-day probationary period.”

“I’m sorry. That’s the chance you take when you falsify your qualifications.”

“We’ll see about that,” Benson threatened.

Question: If Benson decides to sue, would he have a case against the company?

Sullivan’s verdict: “A probationary employee has no claim on seniority rights,” Plant Engineer Mike Sullivan told Carlson. “There have been cases that were decided in the employee’s favor where dismissal was considered to be discriminatory, capricious, or otherwise unfair. But such exceptions certainly couldn’t apply where the applicant clearly misrepresents himself. The dismissal stands.”