Probation Period

16 April 2019

When you choose to hire a new employee, you want to see if they’re the right fit for the job. They’ve already made a good impression in the interview stages, but now you need to assess if they can put their words into action.

This is where a probation period comes in. During this time, you’ll be able to determine whether you’ve picked a great candidate to join your company. Without one, you may potentially be stuck with under-performing and unsuitable candidates – causing effects to your time, money, and ultimately your business.

In this guide, we’ll cover what a probation period includes, its benefits, and how to apply your final decision.

What does 'probation period' mean?

A probation period is the initial time when a new employee learns their way around a new job.

It’s not just a time for employees to learn the ropes. It’s a time period where an employee may be dismissed with little or no notice if they’re found to be unsuitable for the role.

You should generally ease them in, letting them get used to your work methods. When the period ends, you’ll be able to establish whether to keep them permanently or let them go.

But probation periods aren’t only used for new starters. Sometimes they’re used for existing employees. Like, for those who are newly promoted or going through performance reviews.

The length of the probation period is ultimately your decision. But it normally averages from three to nine months. Choosing the length depends on the type of job role you’re offering.

Benefits of probation periods

The main aim of adding a probation period in the contract is to check capability and suitability. They allow you to:

  • Determine whether they have the right skillset and ability for the role.
  • See if they fit into their team well.
  • Dismiss unsuitable staff members with little or no notice.

The time period allows you to see the drive and potential previously shown at the interview stages. If they fail to meet the job specifications, you have enough time to decide whether to further or end their employment.

It’s especially useful to see if a candidate has lied or exaggerated their skills. Meaning you’ll never be forced to keep an employee you’re not satisfied with.

Employees also benefit from the probationary period as they’re able to establish the job is right for them before joining permanently or walking away.

They can determine if their responsibilities and workloads are what was agreed. And if they're given sufficient training and support within their role.

New starters can also see what their team and managers are like, as well as the workplace culture.

Can you let someone go in their probation period?

You can dismiss an employee during their probation period, for issues on conduct, attendance, or performance.

However, if mismanaged, you face the risk of an unfair dismissal claim against you.

Employment law on probation periods in Ireland falls under the Unfair Dismissal Act 1997-2015.

Employment contracts can include a probationary period, and possible extensions if required. The Unfair Dismissal Act won’t apply if an employee is dismissed at an early stage of their employment whilst on probation or training, provided that:

  • Details of the probation period are in writing.
  • The probation or training period is less than 12 months (and is outlined in the contract).

But, under the same Act, you cannot dismiss an employee on a probation period due to:

  • Being part of trade union activities or groups.
  • Pregnancy-related matters.
  • Entitlements under the parental rights (maternity, paternal, adoptive) or carer’s leave legislation.

There’s no law stating a minimum probation period you should provide, but your decision should be reasonable. A probation period shouldn’t be longer than 11 months nor shorter than three months. The time could be extended but these terms should be written in contracts.

The main aim of minimum probation periods is so they are long enough to allow the employee to adapt to how you work but not so long that the employee has no job security.

Discrimination during probation periods

Every employer should protect their employees from discrimination – even those on probation.

You cannot dismiss anyone for discriminatory reasons. All employees are protected from discrimination against a protected characteristic.

The protected characteristics are:

  • Age.
  • Disability.
  • Gender.
  • Civil status.
  • Family status.
  • Race.
  • Religion.
  • Sexual orientation.
  • Membership of the Traveller community.

If an employee raises a claim of harassment or bullying during a probation period, you must deal with it. It doesn’t matter that they aren’t permanent employees, it is still unlawful. Apart from being good business practice, failing to address it can lead to costly discrimination claims.

You might have to manage employees who are off sick in the probation period. Here, try to extend their trial period instead of failing or dismissing them. In writing, inform them about your decision for an extension to their employment contract. (Also, remember that it’s unlawful to dismiss anyone on sickness leave due to a disability condition).

You must act indifferently if an employee plans on getting pregnant on a probation period. Whether they are pregnant or ask for maternity leave, they’re still entitled to legal rights, such as paid time off).

Redundancy during probation periods

There are a few things to consider if an employee faces redundancy during a probation period. All employees are entitled to a statutory notice period when facing redundancy, even those on probation.

The length of the notice period is based on their length of service:

  • Less than 13 weeks: No notice period, but employees are entitled to “reasonable” notice.
  • 13 weeks but less than two years: One week’s notice.
  • Two years but less than five years: Two weeks’ notice.
  • Five years but less than 10 years: Four weeks’ notice.
  • 10 years but less than 15 years: Six weeks’ notice.
  • 15 years’ service or more: Eight weeks’ notice.

You need to show your reasons for redundancy were genuine and unavoidable. Like, if your business was facing closure or a restructure.

It’s always best to try and find alternatives to redundancies and dismissals. But, if you must dismiss an employee, a redundancy dismissal still needs to follow a redundancy process.

How to manage your employees on a probation period

During the probationary period, you can support your employees by following these steps:

  1. Make sure they understand what is expected of them.
  2. Provide training and support to fulfil their role.
  3. Make sure you conduct interim reviews and an ‘end of probation review meeting’.

The main aim of the meeting is to present your decision of either continuing employment or letting them go.

Employees could pass by default if you don’t provide an end of probation period review meeting. Where they are legally entitled to contractual rights and benefits.

Get support on probation periods with Peninsula

For expert support on probation periods and recruiting employees, call Peninsula today.

We offer accurate and professional advice on employment contracts. From the hiring stages to promotions - and everything in between.

Let Peninsula take the burden and stress; allowing you to invest your time and money towards developing your workforce.

Peninsula Ireland clients get access to 24/7 HR consultations on employee relations and wellbeing. We also have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) with unlimited information on employee wellbeing and staff management.

And if you are not yet a client, you can still enjoy free advice from one of our business experts. Simply call us on 0818 923 923.

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