probationary periods

An Employer’s Guide To Probationary Periods

A probationary period is a trial period of employment at the start of a new role. It is good practice to make proper use of a probationary period with either a new staff member or an existing employee in a new role.

By having a probationary period in place, both the employee and the employer have time to assess whether it is a suitable fit. This period allows for clear expectations to be set and achieved. Furthermore, if things don’t work out (for either party), it prevents them from becoming a permanent employee or becoming permanent in the new role.


Best Practice – How To Manage Probation Periods

Be explicitly clear and confirm in writing that the employee will be required to successfully complete a probationary period. You should also state how long this will be. For new employees this will be in their contract of employment. For established staff it may only require written confirmation in the form of a letter confirming a variation to contract.

Support the employee adequately by providing any required training, provide regular feedback on performance and coaching/mentoring if necessary. Honest two-way communication will help ensure the best outcome – even if it is found that the role or the employee/employer fit isn’t quite right.

Employees on probation have the same statutory employment rights as established employees. Be mindful of any rules you put in place during probation, such as not allowing holiday to be taken. Certain rules may mean those on probation have a different experience to others. It could also damage the working relationship before its begun.

It is good practice to confirm in writing when an employee has successfully completed their probationary period. Ensure any changes that may come from passing probation are acknowledged and confirmed. These can include pay increases, benefits or a longer notice period.


Extending Probation

It may be appropriate to extend the probationary period if the employee hasn’t performed as well as hoped. Extending the probation will allow more time to implement further training that will assist the employee in meeting the required standard.

The probationary period can also be extended if the employee has been absent for a significant amount of time, such as sickness absence. It therefore may be necessary to extend the period to allow for a fair assessment of their performance and ability within the role.

Be mindful of the reason around the absence and whether it is to do with pregnancy, sickness, or family related leave. Communication will be key in ensuring the right support is in place.


Dismissal During Probation

An employee can be dismissed during their probationary period for many reasons, most commonly for unsatisfactory performance or conduct. If the decision is made to dismiss the employee during or on the expiry of the probationary period, statutory and contractual notice must be adhered to.

Be mindful to follow the right process. If an employee is dismissed during their probation and the correct procedure isn’t followed, the employer is at risk of breach of contract. An employee who is on probation is not likely to have the length of service required to allow them to claim unfair dismissal. However if the dismissal was due to pregnancy or whistleblowing for example, they could bring a claim.


For further information on the Employment Rights Act 1996, visit legislation.gov.uk

Furthermore, for advice and assistance in supporting your employees through their probation periods, please get in touch with our expert HR team via hr@stellamar.co.uk.


Author: Hannah Savill, Senior HR Consultant