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.
This guide looks at:
- Employee rights.
- How to make the probation period a success.
- Notice periods on a probationary period.
Our experts have put together a complete guide to probationary periods to help you navigate your employee's probation periods.
if you need immediate support get in touch with one of our HR experts on 0800 124 4978
What is a probation period?
It is a period of time at the beginning of an individual’s employment where the individual may be dismissed with little or no notice if they’re unsuitable for the role. It’s very common in the workforce for most roles to include a probationary period, although the lengths differ depending on the seniority and nature of the role.
How long is a probation period?
Typically, they last three months in length. However, there is no strict rule that says you must do this. The upper limit is typically six months, with any longer running the risk of being unreasonable.
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 period: typically used for entry-level employees in roles where little or no previous experience is required
- 6-month 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.
The importance of the probationary period?
The process allows you to determine if a new starter is right for the role and if their values match those of your organisation.
It also allows the employee to decide whether they’re happy working for your business. While the length of this period may vary depending on the job, it’s not uncommon for it to last anywhere from one to six months.
In most cases, there’ll be a clause in the employment contract stating the organisation could extend the probation period if needed.
Should I include a probation period clause in my contracts?
If you plan to implement a probationary period, you should include a clause in your employment contracts. The clause should state the following:
- How long the period will last
- Any terms surrounding notice periods (i.e. if they get one/ how long it will be)
- Your right to extend the period
Make sure you detail your expectations for the role and tell the employee that you’ll be monitoring their performance.
How do I implement a probation period
Your first step should be to ensure a clause is in their employment contract. If you’ve been using the same clause for a while, review it to make sure it is fit for your current needs.
Once the clause is in the contract and the employee agrees to it, you need to monitor their performance. Think about your induction plan and whether it gives the individual the best chance at success. Here are some tips on how to manage the employee in the first few months of their employment:
- Plan out your induction: the quicker the individual gets to grips with your company, the quicker you’ll be able to assess their progress.
- Set your expectations out clearly: Make sure they know what is expected of them in terms they can understand, and make sure they’re aware of them as early as possible.
- Keep weekly notes on employee performance: This will help you monitor performance from week to week and make note of significant improvements.
- Have regular meetings: Having regular catch-ups will allow you to reiterate your expectations, suggest improvements, and address any queries or issues they have.
- Communicate concerns early: If the employee is unaware of where they’re failing expectations they can’t be expected to improve. The earlier you address them the quicker they’ll be resolved.
What are my employee's rights during a probationary period?
Employees on a probationary period are entitled to statutory employment rights. This means they are entitled to receive the National Minimum Wage. They must have time off in line with the Working Time Directive. Also, they are entitled to statutory sick pay, family-related leave and Statutory notice. When they are being terminated, their notice if they have been with the company under 1 month is nothing, but if they have been with the company between 1 month and 2 years the statutory notice is 1 week.
They are also protected against automatically unfair dismissal and unlawful discrimination. You can reserve some non-statutory benefits your company offers workers, until after their probation period. Let’s look at probation from another perspective—the employee and their notice period during probation.
An individual who’s been with the business for less than a month doesn’t have any legal right to a notice period (other than the one week if they resign).
However, this doesn’t mean the employee doesn’t have rights. From the first day of employment they’ll receive:
- Receive minimum wage.
- Holiday pay.
- An itemised pay statement.
Finally, you may think you’re safe from unfair dismissal claims whilst an employee is working their probationary period. This is mostly true, an employee can only claim unfair dismissal after working for you for two years.
However, there are certain types of unfair dismissal that apply even during probation. Especially dismissal as a result of discrimination.
If you dismiss an employee because of a protected characteristic, or in relation to one, you could still face a claim.
How to make a probation period a success
The first few months of any new job matter. Setting an incoming employee up for success is important for their longevity in the role.
Set clear objectives
If an employee is unclear about their job role, they’re already off to a bad start. You need to provide a detailed job description. If they have targets or key performance indicators (KPIs), make sure they know what these are and have everything they need to achieve them.
Goals should be achievable and fair. If they’re too difficult, employees will become demoralised. If they’re too easy, future targets may seem unachievable by comparison.
Have a handover
If an incoming employee is taking over from an exiting employee, a good handover is crucial. This will help the new staff member understand the role and set realistic expectations.
Ideally, the new employee would sit down with the old employee and go through the day-to-day responsibilities of the role with them. If this isn’t possible, they should at least provide a handover document explaining the duties of the job and best practices.
Training and mentoring
Even if the new employee has experience in their field, they can benefit from coaching and mentoring. They might be unfamiliar with the software systems you use, or need a refresher on a certain skill.
Check-in with the staff member at the beginning of their employment to see what training would be suitable for them. Once this has been decided, implement the training (externally or internally) and regularly check their progress.
Conduct regular meetings
Weekly and monthly check-ins are good for tracking progression and how they are settling in. one-to-one meetings allow employees to raise concerns and give honest feedback on their experience so far. You can review key goals and manage performance.
Failing to check in regularly means you can lose track of their progression and they can become withdrawn. How frequently you check in will depend on the role, but a monthly meeting should be the bare minimum.
Extend the probation if needed
It is legal to extend a probationary period if you feel the employee hasn’t quite proved themselves. Often, this can be the motivator they need to improve. Make sure you hold a meeting to inform the employee that you intend to extend their probation.
In this meeting, discuss what you expect to change or improve over the following months. This gives them a concrete goal to work towards and a performance indicator for you to make decisions.
Can I extend the probation period?
Yes, you can extend someone's probation period. However, if you wish to do this you should let the employee know in writing before the end of the probationary period.
You shouldn’t implement an extension without good reason—the most common is a desire to see an improvement in performance. If this is the case, you should highlight the expectations you have and make sure the affected employee is aware of them.
It will also help you prove you acted fairly if you include a clause in your employment contracts.
What is extending a probation period letter?
You should use this letter when an employee has not successfully passed their probation period and you have decided you want to extend their probation to see whether their performance will improve.
This may be because the employee hasn’t met all of your expectations before they’ve reached the end of their probation period. But you still want to give them another chance and perhaps offer some additional time or training with them.
Think of it as more time for an employee to meet their targets. Some employees take longer than others to show their abilities at work. You should ensure them it isn’t a failure, just more time to show their suitability for the role.
What are the reasons for extending probation?
You may assume there are only Probation extension letters for poor performance. However, probation period extension reasons could include several reasons, such as::
- Improve their performance
- Meet targets
- Improve attendance or punctuality
- Correct general conduct within the workplace
- Learn a new skill that will allow them to meet the required standards
If the employee suffers a long leave of absence, you might decide that an extension will give them the time needed to meet your review criteria. You will have only introduced an extension to make up for the lost time.
Remember, a probation period extension is a second chance for an employee who could have a positive impact on your business.
Extending the probation period and the law
You should normally grant an extension only where there are special circumstances justifying such a course and can only be made before the end of the original probationary period.
You will protect your business by specifying your right to extend the employee’s probation period in their contract, which both parties should sign when the employee starts working for you.
This section of the probation period clause should also include the length of a potential extension.
You should not let factors such as race, age, gender, etc. influence your decisions when conducting a performance review. This would be discrimination, where employment law protects employees even under 2 years of continuous service.
If the probation period clause in their contract does not specify your right to extend the probation period, there are three options available to you at the end of the period of probation:
- Pass the employee and confirm their employment
- Fail the employee and dismiss them
- Try to agree on an extension (employees do not have to agree if the contract does not mention your right to extend)
To avoid the problem of trying to convince an employee to agree, make sure that their contract states your right to extend a probation period.
Since there are no probation period extension rules, make sure that you draft a sound contract.
Is there a probation period extension letter template?
Where it is agreed that the employee’s period of probation will be extended, it is important for the manager to set out the terms of extension in writing. It is important to state clearly:
- The length of the extension and the date on which the extended period will end.
- The reason for the extension – for example, that the employee’s performance has fallen short of certain standards, but that the manager reasonably believes that an extension of time will be effective in allowing the employee to achieve these standards.
- Your expected standard of performance for the employee or any specific objectives to be met by the end of the period of probation.
- Any support that you will provide during the extension.
- If the employee does not meet fully the required standards, by the end of the extended period of probation, his/her employment will be terminated.
Is there a notice period on probation?
There doesn’t have to be, but we recommend you specify one in your contract of employment.
Even if you don’t specify one, employees still have to work a notice period during probation by law.
How long is a notice period on probation?
There’s no set rule for how long a notice period has to be, but there is a legal minimum.
If you’re unsure, a good rule to follow is to halve what their notice period would be once their probationary period is over.
For example, if their employment contract states their notice period is four weeks, you should make their probationary notice two weeks.
What's the minimum notice period during probation?
If the employee decides to leave the business and you’ve not set out a notice period in their contract, they must work the statutory minimum—which is one week.
The statutory minimum also applies if you dismiss an employee and haven’t set out a notice in their contract.
There are a few cases where you may dismiss an employee without notice. For example, on the grounds of gross misconduct. However, in most cases, statutory notice will apply.
The law and notice period during probation
You have certain rights during an employee’s run that you should familiarise your business with.
There are various important employment laws you’ll need to consider.
For example, an employee has to work their notice unless there’s an agreement between you to shorten it.
Also, the individual remains an employee of your company, and under the organisation’s control, until the notice expires.
And if an employee has planned annual leave they can legally take this time off. However, you can insist employees take accrued leave instead if you set this out in their contract.
How do I terminate someone on probation?
Assuming you’ve done everything right, and you have a clause in your employment contract, you can dismiss an employee at any point during their probation period. It’s usually recommended you give them a period of time to improve after raising concerns with them.
If they still fail to meet expectations, you should invite them to a formal probation review meeting.
If you say you’ll give notice in your contracts, you should provide them with this notice in writing. If you want to dismiss them on the same day as the meeting, they should provide pay in lieu of their notice.
Dismissal during probation
There’re many reasons why you could consider dismissing an employee before the completion of their period of probation.
The most common reason for dismissal during the probationary period is if the staff member doesn’t have the skills required for the role. It could also be down to:
- Gross misconduct.
- Poor timekeeping (Lateness to work or back from breaks).
- Extended absences due to sickness.
According to Acas’s guide to dismissal during the probationary periods, employees are still entitled to a statutory notice period of one week. This applies if they’ve been in employment for one month or more (up to two years).
There's no need to provide notice to those employed for less than a month. It’s, however, good business practice to give reasonable notice periods in this situation.
Consider the following procedure for dismissing an employee during their probation period:
- In writing, invite the employee to a probationary review meeting where you’ll discuss issues relating to their performance.
- In the letter, inform them you’re considering terminating their contract.
- Advise them of their right to have someone there with them (a colleague or member of a trade union).
- Offer evidence that supports your concerns and give them the opportunity to respond.
- Decide on appropriate action. Before terminating the contract of employment, consider extending the probation period.
- Communicate the outcome to the staff member in writing.
To handle probationary reviews consistently, companies should consider investing in career development for managers on how to manage probation for employees.
By completing successful reviews and highlighting areas of improvement, you’re also preventing situations where you have to dismiss staff during their probation.
Dismissal during probation due to sickness
You’re within your right to do this even during the new starter’s first few months.
You may have to consider dismissing an employee if they have to take time off work to recover from an illness or injury.
However, you should conduct an assessment to identify if the person with illness or disability is work-related.
Of course, dismissal should always be a last resort after considering where you could make reasonable adjustments that could help them return to work if they’re off with a disability.
Reasonable adjustments include:
- Providing parking spaces closer to the office building.
- Reorganising roles to enable a disabled employee to carry out certain duties.
- Allowing regular breaks.
- Providing specialist equipment.
- Allow options for flexible working.
Right to appeal
While an employee can’t claim unfair dismissal during the first year of their employment, they can claim wrongful dismissal. This could occur if you end their contract without going through a fair dismissal process as per their contract of employment.
However, you can allow for an appeal process to avoid claims of wrongful dismissal. As a sign of good faith, you can give up to five working days to lodge an appeal.
What should I do when probationary periods end?
You should confirm that the employee has successfully passed their probation. If you withheld certain benefits until this point, you should also highlight the employee’s new entitlements. You may also wish to hold a meeting with the employee to discuss the probationary period and set expectations moving forward.
Download letter templates
We've put together a dismissal during the probation letter and an extension of the probation period letter for you to use with your employees.
With our probation extension letter sample, you can create multiple kinds of extension letters. Because we leave areas blank for you to fill in with details that vary from employee to employee.
You can create the following employee probation extension letters:
- Probation extension letter due to performance
- Probation extension letters due to attendance
- Probation extension letter due to conduct
- Probation extension letter due to capability
You can change the extension of the probation period letter template to suit your individual situation.
As with the probation extension letter, the dismissal during the probation letter will need to be adapted for your specific requirements.
Get expert advice
Most employers are aware of what probation periods are, 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 at 0800 124 4978
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