No matter how robust the recruitment process, it is all too easy to employ someone who underperforms or simply doesn’t fit the organisation. Having a probationary period gives you the opportunity to assess suitability for a role. You could find, a few weeks into the relationship, that the employee isn’t able to deliver the performance or doesn’t have the skills promised at interview, has poor attendance or timekeeping or just doesn’t fit in terms of company culture or personality.
What is a probation period?
A probation is broadly a trial period at the start of a relationship with a new recruit and typically lasts for between three and six months or sometimes a year. This should be sufficient time to assess the individual’s suitability for the role. The probationary period provides flexibility so that any problems can be addressed before moving an employee to a permanent contract.
Provided there is contractual provision to extend the probationary period, if there are still a few issues that need to be resolved and you believe they can be resolved before an employee is made permanent, then the probationary period can be extended.
Employees who are within their probationary period will not have worked long enough to qualify for unfair dismissal protection, but they are still protected against dismissal for “protected reasons” such as age, ethnicity, disability, religion, gender, etc. They would also have protection against any wrongful dismissal if the employer failed to follow any contractual dismissal process.
What are the benefits of giving an employee a probation period?
There is no statutory basis within employment legislation relating to probationary periods but there are several reasons why it is worth including them in employment contracts for new recruits.
Monitoring employee performance
Probationary periods are good for ensuring a new recruit knows that there is a set period of time during which their suitability for the role is to be monitored and assessed.
It’s a two-way street and so the probation period acts as a time for the employee to also assess whether the role is suitable for them and the company is one they want to work for.
As a purely contractual arrangement as opposed to being a statutory requirement, an employer can delay the introduction of certain benefits such as company sick pay, private medical insurance, etc until satisfactory completion of the probationary period.
Short notice period
It is common to have the statutory minimum notice during the probationary period of one week or even less throughout the first month of employment which enables the employer to remove an employee very quickly who turns out to be unsuitable early on and at less cost.
How do you ensure a successful probation period?
The key to a successful probationary period is good performance management from the start. It will take time for a new recruit to understand fully what is expected of them. Sit them down at the start and go through everything with them so they know what is expected of them during the probationary period and after.
Enable them to develop the knowledge and skills needed to be successful through training and support and address any issues with their performance and/or conduct before the probationary period ends. Hold regular review meetings so they know how they are progressing and they have the opportunity to improve if they are falling short of what is required.
What to do when the probation period comes to an end
The end of probation review is vital. You will have been monitoring the employee's progress on an ongoing basis, giving feedback on any performance issues or training requirements. So you will probably know whether the employee is going to be successful or not.
There are three alternative options available to you when the employee's probation period comes to an end:
- Confirm to the employee that they have successfully completed their probationary period and write to confirm this.
- Extend the probationary period to allow the employee more time to meet the required standard if there are still some concerns and you think there is a possibility that they will improve given a bit more time. Write to confirm that the probationary period is being extended and for how long, together with the reasons and what the employee needs to do to be successful at the end of the extended period.
- Dismiss the employee if their performance and/or conduct has not been satisfactory and of course write and confirm that.
The aim of the probationary period is to bring an effective employee on board and a thorough monitoring and performance management process from day one gives them every possible opportunity to succeed in the role but if they are not right for any reason, it is easy for you to let them go.