A probation period, also known as a probationary period, is a vital step in the recruitment process. It enables employers and newly hired employees to determine if they are likely to be a good fit. As an HR professional, it is essential that you understand what probation periods are and why they are so important.
In this post, we will break down what they are and how they can benefit your business. We will also discuss the legal side of probation and notice periods and what you need to be aware of when you implement your probation period policy
- Probation Period Meaning
- Why Are Probationary Periods Important?
- Probation Periods and UK Employment Law
- How to Manage Employees During Their Probation
- Employee Rights During the Probationary Period
- Do Employees Have to Give Notice During the Probation Period?
- Can I Dismiss an Employee During Their Probation Period?
- What Happens When an Employee’s Probation Period Comes to an End?
A probation period is a fixed period of time during the start of an individual’s employment when they are exempt from certain contractual rights and obligations. Essentially, it is a trial period for both parties to determine if a new employee will be a good match before they are made a permanent member of staff.
The probationary period can last anywhere between 2 weeks to six months, depending on the terms of the employment contract. During this time, an employee can resign or be dismissed with a reduced notice period if either party determines they are unsuitable for the role. Although employees have certain statutory employment rights from the first day of employment (such as sick pay), other benefits such as pensions may be withheld until the probation period has been reviewed and reached a satisfactory conclusion.
Probationary periods are effectively an extension of the recruitment process. They provide you with an opportunity to evaluate a new starter’s work over an established period of time so that you can be sure they are suitable for the role. Factors that you should take into consideration during an employee’s probation period include performance, skills, abilities, attendance, and general conduct. If you don’t offer a probationary period you run the risk of being stuck with an employee who doesn’t meet the expectations of the role.
Probationary periods are also important for employees as they give them a chance to determine if they will be happy working at your company. This is vital as unhappy employees tend to lack motivation and enthusiasm, and this can have a knock-on effect on performance and productivity (not just in terms of the employee in question, but also the impact they have on their colleagues and teammates).
There are no specific probation period laws in the UK. If you decide to implement a probationary policy then you must make sure it is included in your employment contracts. You should include the following in your probation clause:
- The duration of the probation period
- Any specific terms relating to notice periods
- Your discretionary right to extend the probation period
The length of the probationary period is up to you, but it must be reasonable. If you decide to extend an employee’s probationary period then this also needs to be for justifiable reasons.
In terms of notice periods, UK employment law states that you are obliged to give a minimum of one week’s notice if you decide to terminate an employee’s contract during their probationary period (provided they have been employed for more than 1 month). You also need to make sure you comply with the Equality Act 2010 and that your reasons for dismissal are not discriminatory.
The following best practices will help you effectively manage your employees during their probation period.
- Design an effective and informative onboarding policy for new recruits. The more information you provide them with, the quicker they will get up to speed.
- Establish clear standards and expectations in terms of performance, conduct, attendance and punctuality.
- Make sure new employees are clear on your company’s core values and targets.
- Set measurable targets to measure new employee performance and provide support and guidance where necessary.
- Make sure employees receive enough training to fulfill their duties to the best of their abilities.
- Meet regularly with new employees to discuss their progress and find out how they are settling in. Address any raised issues.
- Communicate any concerns as soon as possible so that they can be rectified.
- Establish a schedule for probationary period review meetings, communicate it to the employee in advance and stick to it.
Employees on probation have the same statutory rights as all other employees. This includes entitlement to the national minimum wage, maximum weekly working hours in line with the Working Time Directive, statutory sick pay, family-related leave, and statutory notice. Employees on probation are also entitled to protection against unfair dismissal and unlawful discrimination.
You are not obliged to provide employees with non-statutory benefits such as pensions, bonuses and enhanced sick pay during their probation period. This is offered at your discretion.
The first thing to note here is the distinction between contractual and statutory notice. If you have stipulated an agreed probation period notice policy in an employee’s contract of employment then they must comply with it. If you have not defined a notice period in their contract then they must comply with statutory notice requirements (one week’s notice). The same applies if you choose to terminate the contract of an employee on probation. The only exception to this is if an employee has been with your company for less than one month. In this case, you do not need to give notice (unless you have stated otherwise in their contract).
You can dismiss an employee at any time during their probation period if you feel they are not meeting expectations. Before doing so though you should make sure you raise any concerns and provide support where necessary. You can do this during a formal probation review meeting. Be sure to maintain a record of all communications and make sure your reasons for terminating an employee’s contract cannot be construed as unfair dismissal.
Once an employee’s probation period has come to an end you need to decide how to proceed. Will you offer them a permanent position or give them notice of termination? Make sure you have conducted a full review of all aspects of their work. This includes performance, skills, ability to fulfill duties, attendance, punctuality, and conduct.
Once you have made your decision you will need to hold a probation period review meeting with the employee to discuss the outcome. If the probationary period has been successful then this is the point where you will offer them a permanent contract. If they have not met your expectations then this is your opportunity to explain what went wrong. Make sure you provide clear examples and be as specific as possible. Provide the appropriate notice and give the employee an opportunity to appeal.
You may decide to offer a probation period extension if there has not been enough time to make a final decision. If this is the case, then make sure you clearly explain the terms of the extension to the employee. Once the meeting is over, confirm everything in writing so that there is no risk of confusion or dispute.
Written by Cat Symonds; Edited by Carmina Davis
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