What is a probationary period?
A probationary period is a contractual period of time at the start of an employment contract between a new employee and an organisation. During the probationary period the employee can be exempt from some contractual rights, e.g. employee benefits.
The probationary period will be for a fixed amount of time, and the length should reflect the role. There is no fixed period of time for a probationary period. Many standard probation periods are 3 months, however, for senior roles this can be 6 months probation period, and can be a short as 1 month for contract workers.
A probationary period can only be used for new employees as a clause at the start of the employment relationship. At the end of the probation period, you should either; confirm the employee’s employment, extend the probationary period or terminate their employment.
An organisation can only extend a probationary period, to allow more time to assess the new employee’s suitability, if it forms part of the employment contract. Should it be deemed as the necessary action, then it should be set out in writing stating the reasons for the extension, the areas which need to be addressed and setting targets, with a revised probationary review date.
A report from People Management highlights 1 in 5 new employees leave an organisation during their probationary period, and after all the time spent searching and recruiting for the right candidate, it’s increasingly important for organisations to understand probationary periods and how to make them work for their organisation.
Why are probationary periods important?
From the employer’s perspective, the probationary period allows for a fixed amount of time for the company to assess;
- Whether the new employee is right for the role;
- The new employee’s fit within the team;
- And the new employee’s fit within the organisation.
As part of this you would be assessing the new employee’s skills and abilities against the role and also their ability to perform against targets.
A well-structured probationary period can also support the onboarding process, by helping a new employee to get settled into their role.
Probationary periods also allow the employee to assess whether the role and the organisation is right for them.
What rights do employees have whilst on probationary?
Employees on a probationary period, whether it’s a 1, 3 or 6 month probation period, still have statutory employment rights, including but not limited to; unlawful discrimination, national minimum wage, the working time directive, statutory sick pay, maternity and paternity leave, and time off for dependents.
However, UK probation law allows organisations to restrict work related benefits during the probationary period, for example bonus schemes, private health care and life assurance. Notice periods are often shorter on probation periods, to allow either side to terminate the contract within a shorter time period than a permanent employee.
How to make a probation period work for you?
During the probationary period the organisation should provide support to a new employee which can be achieved by following these simple steps:
- Let the new employee know what you expect from them within their role and set them realistic and measurable targets.
- Provide training and support to allow them to develop the skills needed to fulfil their new role.
- Use regular review meetings, at least once per month, to address any arising issues or concerns and see how the new employee is getting on.
- Ensure end of probationary review meetings are booked and actioned before the end of the review period. If you do not, the new employee will automatically pass their probation by default, entitling them to longer notice periods and potentially other contractual rights and benefits.
- End the probationary period with an official end of probation review meeting and take the appropriate action – confirming the employee’s role, extending the probationary period or terminating employment.
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