Employers sometimes have policies regarding probationary periods for new employees or for existing employees who start new jobs. These policies often set a time frame for employees to learn the job and to demonstrate that they can adequately perform the job. If they are unable to do so, they are usually terminated. Sometimes probationary period policies also include provisions that prohibit telework, reassignment, schedule modifications, etc., until the probationary period is completed. But what if an employee who is still in the probationary period needs an accommodation such as telework, reassignment, or a schedule modification? Does the employer have to consider the request or can the employer follow its policy?
According to the EEOC, reasonable accommodations must be provided to qualified employees regardless of whether they work part- time or full-time, or are considered "probationary." Modifying a policy, including a probationary period policy, is a form of accommodation under the ADA that employers must consider. This means that an employer must consider modifying the probationary policy as an accommodation unless doing so creates an undue hardship.
However, reassignment during an employee’s probationary period may not always be required. The following discussion is from EEOC's Enforcement Guidance: Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the ADA.
Is a probationary employee entitled to reassignment?
Employers cannot deny a reassignment to an employee solely because s/he is designated as "probationary." An employee with a disability is eligible for reassignment to a new position, regardless of whether s/he is considered "probationary," as long as the employee adequately performed the essential functions of the position, with or without reasonable accommodation, before the need for a reassignment arose.
The longer the period of time in which an employee has adequately performed the essential functions, with or without reasonable accommodation, the more likely it is that reassignment is appropriate if the employee becomes unable to continue performing the essential functions of the current position due to a disability. If, however, the probationary employee has never adequately performed the essential functions, with or without reasonable accommodation, then s/he is not entitled to reassignment because s/he was never "qualified" for the original position. In this situation, the employee is similar to an applicant who applies for a job for which s/he is not qualified, and then requests reassignment. Applicants are not entitled to reassignment.
Example A: An employer designates all new employees as "probationary" for one year. An employee has been working successfully for nine months when she becomes disabled in a car accident. The employee, due to her disability, is unable to continue performing the essential functions of her current position, with or without reasonable accommodation, and seeks a reassignment. She is entitled to a reassignment if there is a vacant position for which she is qualified and it would not pose an undue hardship.
Example B: A probationary employee has been working two weeks, but has been unable to perform the essential functions of the job because of his disability. There are no reasonable accommodations that would permit the individual to perform the essential functions of the position, so the individual requests a reassignment. The employer does not have to provide a reassignment (even if there is a vacant position) because, as it turns out, the individual was never qualified -- i.e., the individual was never able to perform the essential functions of the position, with or without reasonable accommodation, for which he was hired.