A probationary period is commonly used when an employee joins the organisation and is a useful way of assessing performance. A probationary period can last anything from three months to a year, but typically it is six months. The employer can also reserve the right to extend the probationary period should the need arise by stipulating it in the contract of employment, however, this should not be the norm and should only be agreed if there are special factors that justify it.
No matter how long the Company decides the probationary period should be, it must be clearly communicated to the employee at the outset of their employment.
Despite the presence of a probationary period in most contracts of employment, very often they are not used correctly. I therefore offer six tips for implementing them effectively.
1. Probationary periods can help avoid performance issues later
A probationary period can focus the minds of the employer and the employee to make sure that the new employee is given the support necessary to be able to perform to the required standard.
The employer should discuss the following with the employee within their first week:-
· What they are expected to achieve in their job during the probationary period.
· The core values of the organisation and behaviours expected of the employee.
· The standards of regular attendance expected from the employee.
· Any development required to help the employee to do their job.
· How any problems with performance will be addressed.
· When the probationary period review meetings will take place.
During the probationary period a series of formal review meetings should take place between the new employee and their manager to discuss areas of strength, where improvement is needed, any training requirements and whether or not the required standard is reached.
2. Do not wait until the end of the probationary period before addressing performance issues
Employers should hold regular review meetings with the new employee during the probationary period to give feedback and listen to any concerns the employee may have. Any problems during the probationary period should be discussed ‘in the moment’ rather than waiting for the next review meeting. The aim is to bring about a sustained improvement in performance and to ensure that the employee has had sufficient opportunities to achieve this. If there are performance issues, a plan should be put in place to help the employee to improve.
The probationary period can be extended in appropriate circumstances, but employers should avoid having to extend the period simply because issues have not been dealt with earlier.
3. Consider contractual rights during the probationary period
While probationary periods do not affect employees’ statutory rights, it is open to employers to provide for different contractual rights for employees during their probationary period. For example, the employer could withhold certain contractual benefits like gym membership or life assurance until the employee has successfully completed the probationary period.
4. Termination before the end of the probationary period
If it is clear that the employee is not suited to the job, termination before the end of the probationary period is an option. Employees should be given a fair opportunity to reach the required standard of performance and conduct during the probationary period, but in some situations it will be clear that the employee will not be able to do so, and dismissal before the expiry of the probationary period may be appropriate. The employee will be entitled to notice, or a payment in lieu of notice, in the normal way.
5. Fair dismissal
Full disciplinary procedure is not required when dismissing but employers should still follow a fair dismissal procedure.
It is unlikely that an employee on a probationary period will have the two years’ service required to claim unfair dismissal. However, it is important to note that an employee may have the right to claim discrimination or automatic unfair dismissal from day one of their employment. Employers should, therefore, ensure that they follow a fair dismissal procedure and be able to show evidence of this if the reason for the dismissal is challenged.
The employer must ensure that it follows any contractual disciplinary procedure.
6. Take action to dismiss employee or extend the probation before the probation period has expired
If the probationary period expires without the employer taking action to dismiss the employee or to extend the period, the employee will be presumed to be confirmed in the role, and will therefore be entitled to any extended contractual notice period that applies on passing probation.