Probationary period

09 July 2019

As an employer, hiring new employees is part of the furniture. But sometimes, the person you hire doesn't always end up fitting into your company. This doesn't always seem obvious straight away.

Putting new employees on a probationary period is a great way to assess if the person you have hired understands their new role and fits in with your company culture. However, there are certain things you need to be aware of if you choose to take this option.

In this guide, we'll discuss what a probation period is, why they're important, and how to manage them correctly.

What is a probation period?

A probation period is a period at the start of an employment contract to assess their ability. They can also be dismissed with little or no notice.

In essence, it's a trial period for any new starters.

Why are probationary periods important?

Probationary periods are vitally important to see if the person you've employed will meet expectations and fit into your company. If they turn out to be unsuitable for the role, this period gives you a safety net to terminate their employment before they have legal rights.

So as an employer, you need to understand the full range of benefits that come with a probation period.

What are the benefits of a probationary period?

There are many benefits that come with putting new starters on a probationary period. Such as:

  • It encourages employees to work hard and prove their ability.
  • It enables you to see if the new employee fits into your company culture.

So if you don't currently use probation periods in your company, you should consider building them into your onboarding process.

Is a probationary period a legal requirement under employment law?

No, putting new employees on a probation period isn't a legal requirement in the UK.

However, this doesn't mean it isn't something you should seriously consider doing as part of your onboarding and new starter process.

What happens during a probation period?

During a probation period, the employee will work in their new role for the time period agreed. This includes carrying out the same day-to-day responsibilities as people who have been with the company for a while (only if there’s other people in their team).

As an employer, you should be looking for the following things throughout:

  • If they can do the job well.
  • If they work well with their colleagues.
  • If they deliver results.
  • If they learn the processes quickly.
  • If they are reliable and trustworthy.
  • If they listen and take on instructions.

Now you understand what happens during a probation period, you need to understand how long they last.

How long does a probation period last?

In the UK, there's no single law determining how long a probation period should be. However, they are typically between three and six months. How long a probation period may last depends on the following:

  • The nature of the role.
  • How long you feel the new employee will take to understand the main responsibilities of the role.
  • How long you feel you need to make the correct judgment on if they're suitable for the role.

If you're choosing to use probation periods, you must remain fair with the amount of time you're using them for.

 employee smiling

How to implement a probation period

You should communicate with the new hire that you're looking to put them on probation at the start of their employment.

To implement a probation period successfully when they start working with you, it’s a legal requirement insert a probation period clause explaining all the details surrounding it. 

What is a probation period clause?

A probation clause is a clause included in an employee's contract that clearly outlines the terms surrounding their probation. This clause makes these terms contractually binding. So, both parties know what to expect throughout the probation period.

The following should be clearly stated in the clause:

  • How long the probation period is.
  • Clear and concise details regarding notice periods.
  • Why you may choose to extend the probation period.
  • The options at the end of the probation period. For example, pass or terminate the employee.

Many employers choose to include a probationary period clause in their contracts to ensure the new employee is right for their business.


How to manage employees on a probationary period

It's important you understand how to manage employees who are on a probation period. Doing so will lead to the successful completion of the probation, and a smooth transition into your company and their new job.

You should support new employees during their probation period, making it clear what's expected of them.

Let's discuss ways you can do this in more detail:

Create a clear induction plan

You need to create a clear induction plan for any new starters you have. This must include a clear breakdown of their daily responsibilities and duties. You must give your new employees all the tools they need to succeed.

The better your induction plan, the faster the new employee will settle into your company and their new role.

Set clear and manageable goals

You should sit down with the employee and set out clear, manageable, and achievable goals for the probationary period.

You must make sure the goals you're setting are achievable. Remember, new starters will need time to get to grips with their new job.

Reflect on the employee's performance each week

Sit down with a senior or line manager each week to discuss the progress of the employee on probation. This can be especially helpful within the first month.

These meetings are highly useful to understand their progress and any areas of improvement that can be worked on in the remaining time.

Hold regular meetings with the employee

You should hold regular catch-up meetings with the employee on probation. These meetings allow them to make you aware of any concerns they have about their performance.

Holding regular meetings will help the working relationship to grow and will increase the employee's confidence in you knowing you want them to succeed.

Regularly communicate any concerns

It's vital you make the employee aware of any concerns you have regarding their performance - you should do this via informal discussions. This way, you're giving them the best chance to perform and succeed in your company and the new role.

After raising concerns with the employee regarding their performance, you should give them a period of time to turn things around.

Make sure you have documented evidence of these meetings. This may prove vital in the future, especially if the probation doesn't go to plan.

 Employee making notes besides a laptop

What are the rights of employees on probation?

You must be aware that employees on probation periods have the same statutory employment rights as those not on probation. Meaning they're entitled to national minimum wage or statutory sick pay (along with many others).

However, many employers choose not to provide a probationary employee with non-statutory employment rights. For example, only providing statutory, not enhanced sick pay.

You must also make reasonable adjustments if you have an employee on probation with a disability. Failure to do so is discrimination and could leave you liable to a claim.

Can you dismiss an employee during their probation period?

Yes, you can dismiss an employee during a probation period.

If you're dismissing an employee on probation, you must provide them with the contractual notice period that's stated on their employment contract.

What is the notice during a probationary period?

Both the employer and the employee must give the correct notice period as per the employment contract.

However, this must not be less than the statutory notice period under the Employment Rights Act 1996 (at least one week after more than a month of employment).

Failure to provide the minimum notice period to an employee may lead to a claim being raised against you for wrongful dismissal.

What happens at the end of the probationary period?

At the end of the probationary period, you have a decision to make. You either offer the employee a permanent contract with your company, or you decide they're not right for you.

Whatever your decision is, you should hold a formal probation review meeting and make the employee aware. So, you need to know how to hold one successfully.

How to hold a probation review meeting

If you choose not to pass the employee who's been on probation, you should make them aware in the meeting of your decision.

Let's discuss how you hold one of these meetings:

  • Review your past notes from meetings with the employee.
  • Ensure you have sufficient examples of how the employee failed to meet expectations.
  • Be honest and direct with the employee.
  • Encourage the employee to respond to what you're saying - they may have a genuine reason why their performance wasn't up to scratch.

Can you extend the probation period?

Yes, you can extend a probationary period. Extending an employee's probation period is a good alternative to dismissal, giving you more time to see if they're the right fit for your company.

There's no specific time to how long you may choose to extend the period for. However, you shouldn't make it too long as this period of uncertainty isn't fair on the employee.

Can an employee on probation claim unfair dismissal?

Yes, if you dismiss an employee for a reason that qualifies for automatically unfair dismissal - they may raise a claim against you. This includes unlawful discrimination, and you may be taken to an employment tribunal.

If this is the case, you may be hit with a heavy fine - along with reputational damages. However, an employee may only claim unfair dismissal for up to two years of working for you.

Get expert advice on probation periods from Peninsula

Hiring new employees is part of running a business. However, the person you hire isn't always the best fit for your business.

Putting your new employees on a period of probation is a valuable way of seeing if they understand their new role. However, there are certain things you need to be aware of if you choose to take this option.

Peninsula offers 24/7 HR advice which is available 365 days a year. Want to find out more? Contact us on 0800 051 3687and book a free consultation with one of our HR consultants.


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