Probationary Periods – FAQs

By Amanda Beattie
25 Mar 2021

If you employ people, you’re probably familiar with probationary periods. In this article, we’ll look at the most common question employers ask to ensure you are using them correctly.

Frequently asked questions

What is a probationary 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 most roles to include a probationary period, although the lengths differ depending on the seniority and nature of the role.

How long should a probationary period last?

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.

There is however, the possibility of an extension…

Can I extend the probation period?

Yes. 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 employee is aware of them.

It will also help you prove you acted fairly if you include a clause in your employment contracts.

Should I include a probationary 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 probationary 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 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.

How do I terminate someone on a probationary period?

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 you should provide pay in lieu of their notice.

What are my employees’ rights during their 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 (1 week).

They are also protected against automatically unfair dismissal and unlawful discrimination. You can reserve some non-statutory benefits your company offers, until after their probation period.

What should I do when a probationary period ends?

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.

Expert support on probationary periods

Probationary periods are standard in most employment contracts, but many employers take them for granted. That’s why it’s important to review yours and make adjustments if necessary.

For assistance reviewing any or all parts of your contracts of employment, speak to a Croner employment law experts today on 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Amanda Beattie

Amanda represents corporate clients and large public bodies, including complex discrimination and whistleblowing claims. Amanda also drafts and delivers bespoke training regarding all aspects of employment law, including ‘mock tribunal’ events; in addition she also frequently drafts employment law articles for various publications for Croner and their clients.

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