Probation Periods

Are you using probation periods properly? What does it mean for employees to be in a probation period? Why do they matter?

Firstly, what is the purpose of a probation period?

  • It’s a trial period for the new employee and it allows you and the employee to assess their suitability for the role.
  • It increases the chances of the employee succeeding in their role.
  • It’s easier to tackle problems from the start.

What should be the length of a probation period?

  • There isn’t a standard time frame in law, but we suggest between 3 and 6 months.
  • The period should be long enough for:
    • The employee to settle in.
    • The employee to learn key elements of job.
    • For you to assess the capability of the new starter.
  • However, there is no legal requirement for employers to use probationary periods so it is optional!

What should a probation period involve?

  • It should be a formal structured procedure aimed at assessing the employee’s performance, capability and suitability for the role.
  • The programme should include:
    • regular monitoring of performance through progress meetings;
    • early identification and discussion of problem areas;
    • regular constructive feedback; 
    • supervisory support and guidance; and
    • training and coaching.
  • The new starter should be given:
    • clear job outputs;
    • the required standards of performance and behaviour;
    • the measures against which the employee will be assessed; and
    • development activities.
  • It should outline what the employee needs to learn, for example:
    • specific job tasks;
    • organisation’s procedures;
    • general workplace practices; and
    • product or technical knowledge.
  • Keep it interesting: give the employee work to do while learning.

Hold Progress Meetings

  • Hold regular progress meetings with the employee at least once a month.
  • Allow the employee’s performance and progress to be monitored on a ‘little and often’ basis.
  • Ensure each review is completed on time.
  • Each meeting should cover:
    • areas where the employee is doing well;
    • areas where the employee is falling below requirements and why;
    • training needs;
    • other relevant matters, e.g. timekeeping, attendance or conduct;
    • the employee’s view on how well they are integrating into the team;
    • the employee’s concerns/questions; and
    • a discussion on problem areas and positive outcomes.

The Final Review – has the employee passed their probation?

  • The meeting should take place before the end of the probationary period.
  • Check how the employee feels about their role and performance.
  • Explain how their performance will be managed in future.
  • If their performance is satisfactory, issue a letter confirming the appointment.

Extending Probationary Periods

  • The extension of probationary period may be appropriate where:
    • performance is unsatisfactory; and/or
    • the employee or manager is absent during the probation period for an extended period.
  • Only extend if this is likely to lead to improvement in performance.
  • Set out the terms of the extension in writing.
  • It’s not advisable to extend more than once.

Dismissing an Employee During or at the End of the Probationary Period

  • If their performance is unsatisfactory and further support will not help, you can terminate their employment (if you are unsure, please contact us for advice).
  • Unsatisfactory performance in the probation is a fair reason for dismissal.
  • Before you end their employment, please consider any alternative roles the individual could do.
  • The right to claim unfair dismissal requires 2 years’ service, so if you dismiss the employee at the end of their probation, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to claim unfair dismissal. Make sure you pay them what they are owed to avoid a Breach of Contract claim.
  • However, employees are protected against discrimination from day 1 so if you believe the employee has a protected characteristic, please contact us for advice.
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