Probationary periods provide an essential extension to the recruitment process, providing a valuable window for both employer and employee to ensure they are a good fit for one another. As such, the probation period offers vital opportunities to monitor and evaluate performance and expectations, for both parties, over an established period before full contractual rights and obligations kick in.
What is a probationary period?
Legally, there is no such thing as a probationary period. The commencement of employment date as detailed within a contract of employment, is the date an employee starts with a company; not the date the employee passes probation. However, most contracts of employment include a probationary period clause, during which certain terms only apply during the specified probationary timeframe, such as the length of notice period. A probationary period is used with new employees (and sometimes if there is an internal move) and generally lasts between three and six months.
Why have a probationary period?
The reason companies use a probationary period is to trial the working relationship to see if the new employee is right for the business. It can be used to test whether the new recruit is demonstrating the skills and experience as identified during the interview process. It’s like a safety net should the employee not meet expectations, or if the job is not what the employee expected – it works both ways!
How to monitor probation for new employees
Having a comprehensive probationary policy and process which is communicated to new employees and understood and effectively carried out by line managers is vital for making this process work. The line managers, supported by HR, are able to start scheduling probationary reviews from day one, so that the new employee can dedicate the time to prepare and attend. If they have read the policy, then they will know what to expect from their first probation meeting. It helps if there are job descriptions in place and clear expectations are communicated to the new employee.
If the probationary period is set for six months, then the first meeting would be held at the end of the first month, the end of the third month and at the end of the six months to decide whether the employee has successfully passed probation. Ensure that the relevant documentation is completed during the meetings, is signed off and recorded on the employee’s HR file. If there are development points required, these should be detailed and expectations for the next review set. If issues with the employee arise in between probation reviews, then additional meetings can be called to tackle these issues.
The role of the line manager
Line managers should be committed to supporting new employees by being available and delivering the training required for the employee to carry out their new job. The employee should be willing to learn, ask questions and attend the meetings.
At the end of the probationary period, the line manager, with the support of HR when required, should be able to make a decision as to whether a new recruit has passed the probationary period or not… If the employee has performed well, then they would pass and receive a letter conforming them in post. HR will need to be notified as the notice period would increase from one week and other benefits, such as medical healthcare, would potentially apply and need to be activated.
If after the initial probationary period a line manager is unsure whether the new recruit is suitable, then there is an option to extend the probationary period, as long as there is provision for this within the contract of employment. Generally, six months should be enough of a timeframe to assess suitability. Don’t use an extension to defer an inevitable dismissal during probation; ensure that the reasons for extending are fair and reflect the performance assessment and documentation completed during the probationary period.
If the probation has not been successful, refer to HR before any dismissal. An employee is able to be dismissed for poor performance or bad conduct at any time during the probationary period, you would not need to follow a process or give a warning, but it is good practice to do so. At the very least a face-to-face meeting to explain the decision and to confirm the notice requirements should take place and the decision then confirmed in writing. Usually, the notice period during probation is one week, which could be paid in lieu of actually working the notice.
Having line managers who are confidently able to carry out the process, backed up with good meeting notes, helps to make the decisions and communicate these to the employee much easier. If you would like a review or to implement an effective probationary policy and process, then get in touch with one of our HR Consultants today by calling 01473 653000 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, have a look at our website for more information and see what our HR support online and our HR Consultancy packages look like to see what would work best for your business.