Once you’ve hired a new staff member, you’ll want to make sure they’re the right fit for your business. Although a candidate can appear ideal during the interview stage, the reality is you don’t know how this will translate into day-to-day performance.

This is where probation periods can help. They, essentially, protect you from a new staff member who doesn’t meet expectations. If it’s clear it isn’t going to work out, then a probation period notice provides you with a chance to efficiently end the working relationship.

Notice period during probation

Keep in mind your employer rights for notice periods when drafting a new contract. Probation periods typically last between three and six months, but make it clear in your contract what your policy is.

You should also explain the quality of work you expect from your new employee that will help them pass their probation. Make sure they’re aware of the KPIs they have to aim for—you can discuss with them during a one-to-one to explain your process, as well as ensuring they have a copy of their contract.

Do note that if you don’t have a probationary period clause in your employment contract, you will have to use the standard notice policies to terminate the employee’s contract. This can lead to delays in removing the staff member from your rota.

Types of notice

There are two types of notice: contractual and statutory notice. The latter is the minimum British law requires—below, you can find out how much notice to give during probation periods.

Contractual notice periods are outlined in your contract. This is the notice you agree that applies throughout the employee’s contract. The amount of time for notice can be whatever you like, provided it meets the statutory minimum.

  • One week or less, for staff who have been with you for under a month.
  • A week, for those with you between one and six months (if you have a six month probation period).
  • If you’re dismissing, you must give statutory notice as per below. In other words, someone with eight years’ service needs to be given eight weeks’ notice.

Statutory notice periods. Minimum notice periods differ depending on how long the employee has been with you. You can’t offer anything less favourable than:

  • A week, for staff who’ve been with you between a month and two years.
  • Two weeks, for those over two years.
  • At least one week for every year a staff member has been with you—they have to been with your business for two years for this to be in effect.

Remember to have regular performance reviews with your new starter. This can help your new starter to confide with you over any issues, which could lead to them overcoming any problems you’ve outlined.

It can take several months for a new working relationship to flourish, so don’t automatically feel the need to hand over their notice until you’ve pursued various possibilities to make the relationship work.

An employee could also resign. They will have to abide by the notice period established in your contract, otherwise you could claim damages for certain losses (provided their contract allows for this).

If the employee changes their mind, you can still consider the staff member to have resigned. However, you can agree to withdraw the resignation if you both agree.

Keep in mind the employee should be paid their normal wage during the notice period, unless sickness or lay-off affects this. Their final wage should also cover the notice period and payment for any untaken holidays. If you have made the employee redundant, however, you may need to have additional redundancy payments.

Does an employee have to work notice in the probation period?

Under British law, the employee must work for the remaining period stipulated in your contract. Do be aware you cannot make an employee work through their notice. Although they could just walk out, many staff members will still want a positive reference from you, so this is rare.

You may want to use PILON if you would like to end the working relationship as soon as possible. It means payment in lieu of notice—instead of your employee working their notice, they can leave immediately. But you will have to pay them as if they had worked.

There’s also garden leave. This is where an employee serves out their notice away from the workplace, but doesn’t have to work. This can often be preferable if they are leaving to join a competitor, for example. Again, you’ll need to pay them for this time.

Probation period notice to-do list

There are tasks you can create to ensure you’re on target with establishing a compliant notice period. Consider the following if you’d like to draft a thorough probation period clause.

  • Establish the terms of the probationary period, ensuring the employee is aware of what is involved, the standards of conduct expected from them, and what they will need to do to pass.
  • Make it clear what the length of the probationary period will be (three to six months are the norm).
  • Keep records in the event of any unfair dismissal claims.
  • Explain in your contract you have the right to extend your probation period as you see fit.
  • Explain the employee will not pass the probation period until they receive written confirmation from you.

Remember that a well-drafted contract should explain all the essential points to your new starter. It will also protect you from any negative developments in your working relationship.

For zero hour contracts

With almost two million people now on a zero hour contract, you may consider them an option for your workforce. Keep in mind these contracts provide different complications, as there aren’t statutory rights with a zero hour contract notice if they’re workers (they do receive statutory notice if they’re employees).

You can, however, establish a notice period policy in your contract. Then, when handing over a notice, provide your staff member with a leaving date. You can read our zero hour contract notice period guide for further information.

We’re here to help you

Need more help with probation period notice? Contact us for further information, whether it’s about probation periods or another employment matter, on 0800 028 2420.