Probation Periods

Peninsula Team

June 29 2012

A Probationary Period is defined as period of time in which an employee’s performance can be evaluated upon commencement of employment and, during this time, the employer can make a decision on the employee’s current employment. Probationary periods are something that new employees are regularly subjected to when they commence employment as they provide a useful tool for (a) developing new employees’ competencies in an effective manner and (b) ensuring that weaker employees are identified at the early stages of their employment. The use of probationary periods is an extremely useful HR practice but employers should ensure that they are applied effectively to obtain the best results and also in a manner which complies with employment laws and regulations: Requirements: You should ensure that the employee’s contract of employment or employee handbook contains a probationary period clause and that the employee is aware of the requirement on them to successfully complete the probationary period. It is vital that the employee is made aware of the requirement placed upon them to successfully complete this review process. The employer should also ensure that the employee has signed a copy of the contract and handbook. The probationary period clause should specifically reserve the right to extend the employee’s probation or terminate their employment if they have not successfully completed their probationary period. If extending the employee’s probation then such an extension should never go beyond 12 month’s service. If you are terminating employment then you need to be wary that the employee’s notice period does not take them over 12 month’s service. If it does then you will be running the risk of an unfair dismissal claim as if the employee has passed 12 months’ service then they may only be dismissed for performance/conduct reasons in accordance with the company’s internal disciplinary procedures.. The Review Process: While an employee is undergoing a probationary period, it is important that short performance review meetings are arranged throughout their probation. These review meetings allow the employer to:
  • Identify if the employee needs more training and development
  • Help clarify goals for the employee
  • Review past and improve future job performance etc…
  • Identify the development of desired skills and competencies
  • Reinforcing desirable & effective behaviour through feedback or linking incentives and rewards to work performance
Thus, it is important at the beginning of employment to decide the appropriate length of probationary periods for meeting business needs and individual development needs. You should arrange for short review meeting dates throughout the probationary period to offer feedback on the employee’s performance to date. This will allow for development in advance of the main probationary review hearing at the end of the probation period. In preparation for these meetings, the employer ought to be able to provide measurable feedback on the employee’s performance. At the start of each probationary review period the employer should set out clear objectives for the employee to achieve. The use of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) can be very beneficial for this purpose. Key Performance Indicators are quantifiable measurements, agreed to beforehand, that may be used to assess an employee’s performance in the role (e.g. sales per month, productivity etc.). Once the probationary review hearing takes place itself then the employer has measurable feedback for the employee on their performance. If during the review process the employee does not meet their KPIs then the employer can identify where the employee is falling short and provide additional training and support wherever necessary. The Probationary Hearing At the end of the probationary period the employer ought to conduct a formal probation review hearing. This is an overall assessment of the employee’s performance throughout the period and it is after this meeting that the employer will decide whether or not to retain the employee. When preparing for these review meetings, remember the following:
  • Preparation is essential. This can be done by drafting up a series of questions so you can discuss all the relevant issues arising from the review.
  • Detailed minutes ought to be taken.
  • The employee’s line manager should be the person conducting the review as they will be able to provide appropriate feedback.
  • When the review has ended, the employer should assess whether or not if the employee has successfully completed the probationary period. If the employee has not achieved the desired standard in completing the probationary period it can be extended or if the employee has underperformed their employment can be terminated.
  • The outcome should be communicated to the employee in writing.
  • If an extension is required the employer should provide clear guidance as to how the employee can improve their performance and indicate the steps needed through more training.
  • An employee’s termination should also be set out in writing with the reasons clearly stated and explained.
Employers should seek advice from Peninsula Business Services when faced with issues regarding Probationary Periods.Please phone the 24 Hour Advice Service on 01 8555050 and one of our experienced advisors will be happy to assist.

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