What employers need to know about probationary periods.

Alan Price – CEO at BrightHR

June 25 2015

Many companies now operate a probationary period as standard when they recruit new starters. This period is effectively a trial to see how the successful interviewee adapts and reacts to their allocated work and the environment they have been placed in. Probationary periods usually last for 3 to 6 months though the duration has to be reasonable in the circumstances, for example, a one week period may be sufficient for a short–term contract. Employees start to gain statutory rights from the first day of employment, whether this is in a probationary period or not, and are protected from day one for issues such as discrimination. Less favourable terms can be offered to those who have not completed their probation such as a shorter notice period for both parties and no entitlement to free private healthcare and other workplace benefits. Successful interview applicants may not always be the best person for the job role and the probationary period can be used if the person is not working out right for the business. Many contractual probationary periods will specify that an employee is employed ‘subject to satisfactory completion of the probationary period’ and, if the employee has not ‘passed’ their probation a dismissal can be carried out. Employees do not gain the right to make an unfair dismissal claim until they have been employed continuously for two years so a probationary dismissal carries little risk. However, if the employee can show that their dismissal was for one of the extensive automatically unfair reasons, such as any discrimination ground or whistleblowing, they will gain the right to bring a tribunal claim. If the reason for dismissal is genuinely under par performance then a dismissal can occur swiftly, making sure to give the relevant notice period. The probation can also be extended if there is a contractual right to do so. Extension may be an option where the employee is not performing to the required standards but you believe that, given a longer period of time and further training, they will meet this standard. Employers may think that an extension is not warranted in this situation because you have belief in the employee, but the extended probationary period can be a further safeguard in cases where employees are given this additional time and training and still do no reach the accepted level of improvement. If you need any clarification on this issue then contact the Peninsula Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.

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