Probationary period

09 July 2019

Job interviews provide an initial basis for employers to decide which candidate would make the best fit for any prospective role. However, it’s difficult to assess the longer term suitability of an individual in just a few short meetings. That’s why employers often include a provisional probation period in the employment contract – generally between one and three months – when taking on a new recruit. This ensures that the person is happy and capable to fulfil the responsibilities of their new role, whilst also defining a clear structure and time period for their employer to identify areas of improvement.

Extensions and dismissal

Although three months is the general rule of thumb for a probation period, this can be extended further if the employer believes their new recruit will be able to meet the full demands of their role in time. If the employee’s performance was not satisfactory during the probation period, and the need for improvement is considered too drastic even with an extension, the employer is able to dismiss the employee at their discretion. However, dismissal is only an option provided that the employee in question is recruited externally. Employers cannot apply a probation period where dismissal could happen when an existing employee is promoted internally to the new role. For example, if that person has at least two years’ service with the company, dismissal on the ground of probation is likely to be deemed unfair by a tribunal.

The employee impact

Probation periods offer an initial opportunity for employees to impress in their new role. Their attitude and willingness to learn is often considered by the employer to be just as important as immediate results. Successfully passing a probation period allows the employee to know that they are doing well in the job, but also allows for useful direction and advice from their employer. If the employee is falling short of expectations, the probation period is an ideal opportunity for the employer to review their initial performance and put things right going forwards.

The law behind probation periods

There is no formal legislation that covers probation periods. If an employer intends to implement a probation period they should detail this intention as part of company protocol contained within the employment contract, agreed and signed by each employee. Failure to make the employee aware in this way may result in an unfair dismissal further down the line.


  • Many employers include a probation period when recruiting a new member of staff – generally between one and three months.
  • Probation periods offer employers the chance to review the performance and attitude of a new employee in the short term. They also provide a useful time frame for employees looking to impress in their new role.
  • All employees should be made aware of their allotted probation period in the employment contract as part of the Statement of Main Terms and Conditions.

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