Probation Period

By Deborah Manktelow
16 Apr 2021

A probation period is a staple of most employment contracts in the UK. They are usually tied to certain contractual perks and job security.

While many laws that protect employees kick in after two years of continuous employment, probation periods add an extra layer of protection for you when hiring someone new.

In this article, we’ll take a look at what it is, how it works, and some of the common pitfalls employers fall into.

What is a probation period?

The best way to think of a probation period at work is as a trial stage for the employee. During this time, you can judge whether a new starter is right for their role.

The length of the period and its terms vary depending on the type of contract, the role, and the workplace itself.

How long is a probation period?

The most common length for a probation period in the UK is either three months or six months. The decision for how long this should last is up to you, however here is how they are usually used:

  • 3 month probation period: typically used for entry-level employees in roles where little or no previous experience is required
  • 6 month probation period: typically used for more senior positions or roles where significant experience/education is required
  • Longer than 6 months: it’s rare for a probation period to last longer than six months. While there isn’t a specific 6 month probation period law stating you cannot do so, having a period that lasts much longer than this may be considered unreasonable without justification. However, probation may last longer than this by utilising an extension…

Failing a probation period

If the employee fails to meet your standards, is guilty of misconduct or poor performance, or simply isn’t suited for the role, you have options.

You may jump straight to dismissal, however, there are alternatives worth considering, such as extending a probation period.

This will serve as a wake up call for the employee, particularly if you set out points in which you wish to see improvement. Often, this results in a much better performance and the employee staying on in the role. You should set this out in writing, and clearly detail:

  • How long the extension will last
  • The reason for the extension
  • The improvement you expect to see by the end of the period
  • Any further support or training you’ll provide
  • Whether you’ll terminate their contract if your standards aren’t met

If this doesn’t work out, or isn’t viable, then you can dismiss the employee with the appropriate notice…

Notice period during probation

If, at some point during an individual’s employment, within their probation period, you decide they are unsuitable, you can dismiss them but must give them adequate notice. For new employees, this would be one week.

However, you might utilise a probation period for an employee who has been promoted to a new role. In this case, you should consider how many years they have been with the company. For those who have been with you for over two years, they receive two weeks’ notice. Beyond that, you must give them at least one weeks’ notice for every year they have been with the business. Another option, is to send them back to their previous role.

Of course, a probation period doesn’t always end poorly. When you are happy with an employee, there are several steps you should take…

End of a probation period

If everything has gone well, arrange a meeting with the employee to confirm the passing of their probation period. You should also confirm this in writing.

If you have some company benefits that only apply once the probation has passed, you should also make sure they are clear on what they are and their entitlement to them.

Probation period UK laws

While there are many probation period rules, there is one that gets the most attention from employers and employees alike—unfair dismissal.

While employees have fewer employment rights at the beginning of their employment, they aren’t completely unprotected.

Whether you go to ACAS for probation period advice or some other source, they all agree, employment begins on the employee’s first day, and from that moment they have statutory rights.

These include:

  • The right to the National Minimum Wage (NMW)
  • The right to have a Statement of Main Terms (SMT) on day one of employment
  • The right to a payslip with details on their wage and deductions such as National Insurance
  • The right to not be discriminated against due to a protected characteristic
  • The right to a daily rest break of at least 20 minutes if they work over six consecutive hours each day
  • The right to weekly rest breaks
  • The right to time off, with no pay, for training
  • The right to time off, with no pay, to deal with emergencies
  • The right to notice of dismissal

So, as long as you provide adequate notice, and don’t discriminate, you can conduct a probation period dismissal fairly and effectively.

One right not mentioned in this list above is the right to time off for antenatal care and the right to have 52 weeks of maternity leave.

 Pregnancy is also a protected characteristic. This means an employee getting pregnant on probation period is not a fair reason for dismissal.

Expert support on employment probation periods with Croner

Most employers are aware of what a probation period is, but issues can still arise if not utilised correctly.

Make sure your contracts are correct and compliant by utilising our expert documentation team. If you don’t handle probations properly, you can face an unfair dismissal claim.

Speak to one of our experts today on 01455 858 132

About the Author

Headshot of Deborah Mantkelow

Deborah Manktelow is a CIPD Qualified HR professional with over 7 years’ experience in generalist HR management working within the Construction Industry.

Working for a National provider of Insulation provided Deborah with the opportunity to strategically support Operations across the UK, supporting HR functions and the wider business.

Deborah is Croner’s Advice Manager, taking responsibility for overseeing the provision of advice to all Croner clients, bringing together our Corporate, Simplify and Association service provisions.

Get expert views & insights delivered directly to your inbox