It’s become common practice for most employers to offer jobs to new starters on the understanding that they must successfully complete a probation period in order to secure their position with the company.¬†

While this typically means that a company would be able to let someone go should the employee not meet the desired standard during the probation period, it’s understandable that some employers feel a little anxious when it comes to dismissing staff, or worry about how to do so safely.

Let’s take a look at what probation periods are, what they mean for the parties involved and, better yet, how Staff Squared can help to keep you ahead of the game!

What is a Probation Period?

To keep it really simple, a probation period is a trial of employment. It provides an employer with the opportunity to hire new staff while monitoring their performance within the agreed time frame to ensure that they are the right fit for the role before offering a permanent position.

Where a probation period is required, employers should disclose this to the employee at the time of giving the job offer. They should also ensure that the new employee understands:

  • What’s expected of them from their new role both during and after their probation period.
  • The company’s core values how they are expected to conduct themselves.
  • If there is any development or training required for them to do their job.
  • Performance review procedures and when probation review meetings will take place.

How Long Should Probation Last?

Probation periods vary in length and will vary from business to business, though most are either 3 or 6 months. Probation periods may also vary for casual workers and those on zero-hours contracts.

Can Existing Employees be Placed on Probation?

While probation periods are most common when hiring a new employee to the company, some employers may use them for existing employees in certain scenarios.

A great example of this could be if there’s been a promotion or internal hire. Employers can use a probation period to withhold or revise some of the terms of employment (such as certain benefits, for example) while the employee learns the job.

Likewise, probation periods may be used if there are issues with performance which need to be monitored over time, allowing the employer to safely assess the employee as they work to improve their performance at work.

By implementing a probation period in these circumstances, both the employer and staff member have the option of terminating the employment if things don’t go to plan.

What Support Should be Provided to Employees on Probation?

There should be a series of formal review meetings held between the employee and their line manager throughout their probation period. There’s no right or wrong way to structure these meetings and each employer will take a different approach to this. But you may wish to meet with the employee at week 4, week 12 and week 26, for example.

Review meetings should follow a similar procedure to the company’s appraisal process – basically, ensure that you have some notes to take into the meeting to help the discussion, keep full and clear records of meetings and ensure that any documentation is signed by both the manager and the employee. The employee should also be provided with copy of any probation meeting documents.

These meetings allow both parties to ‘check in’ and ensure that everyone is happy with the progress being made by the employee. Touching base on anything the employee is unsure about, if there is any additional training/resource requirements or if they are happy within the work environment provides the employer with the opportunity to adjust the support available to the staff member wherever needed.

What Happens at the End of the Probation Period?

When it comes to the end of an employee’s probation period, there should be a final formal review meeting.

During this meeting, the manager should discuss the employee’s performance since their last meeting and also from the start of employment, reviewing any targets that have been set and opening up a conversation about how both the manager and the employee feel the probation period went.

Much like the other reviews throughout the probation period, the manager should ensure that a full record of the meeting and any documentation is kept and signed by both parties.

There are three possible outcomes from the initial probation period. These are:

  • The employee successfully completes their probation.
  • The probation period gets extended.
  • The contract of employment is terminated.

Successful Completion of Probation Period

During the final performance review, the manager should inform the employee that their appointment to the company will be confirmed, and that a letter detailing the successful outcome of their probation will be sent out to them for their records.

Extension of Probation Period

Sometimes, the initially agreed upon probation length isn’t long enough for the employee to prove their competence for the role, and so more time may be needed to give them the opportunity to improve their performance to secure the role. This usually involves some areas of the employee’s performance has been unsatisfactory, but where further training and support may help them to improve to a satisfactory standard. In this instance, companies may wish to extend the employee’s probation end date for a further term.

It’s important to communicate an agreed extension to a probation period along with the terms of the extension in writing to the employee. This should include:

  • How long the probation period has been extended for and the exact date that it will end. This is usually between one and three months.
  • The reason for the extension.
  • The performance standards or targets required of the employee by the end of the extended probation period.
  • Any support that has been agreed on.
  • A clear statement explaining that employment will be termination on the probation end date if the employee fails to meet the required standards.

Termination of Employment Contract

Employers should allow an employee to see out their full probation period before making any decisions about whether to terminate employment. There may be some circumstances where it’s clear the employee is not going to meet the required standard to perform the role they were hired for, and so the employee may wish to end the contract early.

Where possible, you should only end their contract due to unacceptable progress, poor behaviour, or gross misconduct.

You should follow procedure before making any decisions regarding a dismissal.

  • Formally invite the employee to a probation review meeting (in writing), informing them that you are considering terminating their contract due to issues with their performance.
  • Ensure that employee understands their right to bring a colleague or trade union representative to the meeting.
  • Provide evidence to support your concerns.
  • Give them the chance to respond to the issues that you raise.
  • Decide the outcome. This will be whether to go ahead and terminate their contract or extend their¬†probation.
  • Give them a copy of the outcome in writing. This should include mention of their right to appeal your decision and the deadline by which this needs to be submitted.

Are There Any Reasons Employment Shouldn’t Be Terminated During a Probation Period?

Employees are protected against dismissal based on protected characteristics regardless of their length or service or if they are still within their probation period.

Protected characteristics are:

  • Age
  • Race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
  • Disability
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender reassignment
  • Being married or in a civil partnership
  • Being pregnant or on maternity leave

Staff are also protected against wrongful dismissal if the employer failed to follow any contractual dismissal process.

Keep on Top of Probation Periods with HR Software!

If you’re struggling to keep on top of probation end dates and scheduling regular performance reviews, don’t forget that our powerful HR software can help you to automate and easily manage these tasks AND save you time for other important HR duties.

Staff Squared helps you to:

  • Automate new starter probation end dates based on your company’s probation period rules.
  • Receive regular reminders so that you never miss a probation end date.
  • Complete or extend probation periods.
  • Easily end employment where a probation hasn’t been successful.
  • Schedule performance reviews and configure reminders to let you know when the next one is due!
  • Easily source probation letter templates.