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 term refers 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.

A probationary period can be extended if in the employee’s contract it is stated that the employer has the right to do so. This situation could arise if the employer needs more time to assess the long-term ability of the employee to meet the required standards.

This provides the employee with more time to improve their performance to show competence in the duties and required behaviours. If either the manager or employee is absent for an extended period during the probationary period, an extension of the probationary period would be fully warranted.

If the probationary period is extended, the manager must clearly state in writing to the employee:

  • The length of the extension and when it will finish
  • The reason for the extension and what the employee needs to achieve in the extension
  • Any support or training that will be provided during this extension
  • That, if the employee does not meet the required standard by the end of the extension, their employment will be terminated

It is important to note that employment starts from day one of employment not from the start of confirmed on-going employment at the successful completion of the probationary period. Employees can be dismissed at the end of the probationary period or during the probationary period if the employer feels this is appropriate, and full disciplinary procedures do not need to be followed during the probationary period if so stated in the contract.

The notice period as stated in the contract needs to be followed at the end of the probationary period if termination is the outcome, but often a shorter notice period is applied during the probationary period.

Once you’ve confirmed a new hire is a good fit, check out this guide to making sure they stay motivated.

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest from Business Advice.


 
TAGS:

ABOUT THE EXPERT

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.

Work and Wellbeing