Probation Periods and How to Use Them Effectively

Integrate new employees quickly and support your decision making processes by following our helpful guide to making the most of probation periods
Tue 12th Dec 2023

Probation periods are a great tool for employers and when used correctly can be encourage effective work from the onset by providing clear expectations to help an employee perform well in their new role.

Recruitment remains challenging for UK organisations, and by the time you find a new employee, it’s likely that you will have already made quite an investment in them. Make the most of this investment from the start by managing employee contracts and onboarding effectively.

Here is our quick guide to making sure that you, as an employer, use probation periods to best effect.

Expectations

An employee needs to understand all the details of their probation period from the onset.

Set out the length of the probation period clearly in the new employee’s employment contract. This includes information about its duration and also what is expected from them in order to successfully pass their probation. It is also important to cover the termination process, including notice should the new employee not succeed.

Giving clear goals and clearly explaining the standards you expect from an employee during their probation period helps to make sure the new employee is suitable for the role. It is a good idea to give frequent feedback and to assist the employee in addressing any areas of concern.

Making this clear gives new starters the best chance at succeeding and also gives you a clear picture of how the employee is performing and whether they should be confirmed in post at the end of the probation period.

It is also very important to diarise review meetings and to make sure that they take place as scheduled. A common failing amongst employers is that scheduled probation review meetings don’t take place and the new employee consequently does not get managed effectively.

Extending the probation

A tool that employers often overlook is the ability to extend the probation period. Include an express term in the employment contract to allow for extension if you need a little more time to determine the new employee’s suitability. Without an express term to extend the probation period, once it has expired, the employee is likely to be deemed to have passed their probation, even if in your eyes they have not.

We also recommend including an express clause stating that the employee is only deemed to have passed their probation if they receive written confirmation from the employer.

Likewise, keep a written record of why an employee hasn’t passed their probation, which can include the basis of the decision to extend, the length of time its extended for, the support options available to the employee and the specific targets they need to meet, as well as potential consequences of not meeting the standard required of them within the timescale.

Ending the employment after an unsuccessful probation period

If the new employee has capability or conduct issues which means that you no longer wish to employ them, it is important that you follow an appropriate termination process.

The employee will still have some statutory rights, including not to be unlawfully discriminated against or unfairly dismissed automatically on unfair grounds. Make sure that your reasons for the employee not successfully passing their probation period are clearly recorded. This will assist the business in demonstrating the termination was not on an unlawful basis.

Ultimately, probation periods are a great tool for you as an employer when used correctly to make sure that you are hiring staff who can perform well for your organisation. Having a well-drafted probation clause in the contract and managing the probation period effectively will help you make the right decisions, and protect you from claims from any employees you choose not to retain at the end of their probation period.

For help and advice on this topic or related issues, please contact Chris Cook by calling 01727 798089 or emailing chris.cook@salaw.com.

Contact Chris Cook

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