HR · 6 June 2016

Everything you need to know about probationary periods as a small employer

probationary periods
A probationary period can be extended if in the employee’s contract it is stated that the employer has the right to do so
The probationary period is a great opportunity for an employer to carefully consider whether the new team member is able to meet the standards, requirements and expectations of the job and should be offered the position on a permanent basis.

What is a probationary period?

For the purposes of employment, the termrefers to the practice of employers employing new recruits on an initial trial basis for a specified period. The use of a probationary period and its duration form part of the job offer.

During this trial period, the employer can carefully consider whether the new team member is able to meet the standards, requirements and expectations of the job and if at the end of the probationary period they should be offered the position on a permanent basis.

What is the purpose of a probationary period in employment?

The objective of a probationary period is to enable the employer to evaluate the new employee against the requirements of their new position after they have had meaningful first-hand experience of the role. The employer can assess whether the employee’s capability, skills, performance, attendance and general conduct are suitable.

It also, of course, applies the other way round as well, allowing the new employee to make an informed decision as to whether they feel at home with their new employer, job and working environment.

How long is a probationary period?

There is no set period for a probationary period. They are usually not less than one month and not more than 12 months (for very senior positions). On average, they usually range from three months to six months.

What happens during a probationary period?

The probationary period starts from day one of employment. On this day, as part of their induction, the employee should be informed of the following:

  • What they are expected to do and achieve during the probationary period and beyond in their job role
  • What the values of the organisation are and what behaviours are expected
  • The standards expected in terms of attendance, customer service, etc.
  • What development will be provided in terms of training and how to access it
  • When the probationary period reviews will take place
It is vital that both parties are extremely clear about what is expected from day one and that the employee understands that meeting these expectations forms the basis of a successful outcome of the probationary period.

After day one, a series of formal review meetings should be established, which may be at four, 12 and 26 week intervals. Progress should be discussed against standards, values and behaviours. Additional support and training can be provided as appropriate. Full and clear records of these meetings should be made, and agreed and signed by both parties.

What happens at the end of the probationary period?

Before the end of the probationary period, the employer needs to assess whether the recruit’s employment should be made permanent or extended or terminated. If the employment is to be made permanent, the employer should issue a letter confirming the successful completion of the probationary period and that ongoing employment is the outcome.

If their employment is to be terminated, this should not come as a shock as review meetings previously should have reflected this. If this is the case, then as long as your policy or contract states that full disciplinary procedures do not apply during the probationary period, a meeting and confirmation in writing will be fine to end the contract, provided stated notice is given.



Margaret Keane is the managing director of Outsourcing HR, an HR consultancy that helps businesses succeed by providing practical, cost-effective human resources management and recruitment services. In addition to being an experienced HR professional, Margaret has a successful track record in general management roles. As a result, Margaret is focused on ensuring that HR contributes to the bottom line.