Probationary periods are something that I get asked about a lot. For example:
- Should we have them in our company?
- Can I dismiss someone during their probationary period? If so, how do I do this?
- Do I have to pay someone if they’re off sick during their probationary period?
- Can I extend someone’s probationary period?
Firstly, it should be noted that probationary periods have no meaning in law. Statutory entitlements will commence from the date of commencement and not after serving a successful probationary period however long it might be.
So, should we have them in our company? Well it depends! Some of my clients use them to great effect, some don’t use them at all, some are considering it. HR colleagues might argue that actually they don’t serve any purpose at all and that, since the right to claim unfair dismissal doesn’t apply until after two years of service, employees have a two-year probationary period! However, statistics tend to suggest that if someone is going to leave their new job they will do so after 90 days.
A probationary period, I feel, offers a greater degree of support during an employee’s first few months in an organisation. This is also set in a framework of agreed, and timely, reviews which supplement the induction process. These review periods with their line manager, can be a good opportunity to check in with how the employee is getting on, whether there are any major problems, and if so, what they are. This should all be documented on a probationary period review form to show the discussions held during the probationary period and record the support the individual has needed. A buddying system can also work well as the person then gets support at their level in addition to their own manager.
Probationary periods are not just for the employer; they work both ways and can be very helpful for an individual to decide if the job is really for them. Sometimes, just through lack of induction, an individual can feel their role is unclear or perhaps they just don’t like the team they are working with. People leave for any number of reasons.
Can you dismiss someone in their probationary period? Yes, you can dismiss however my advice to clients it that this shouldn’t come out of the blue. It should be after careful consideration, careful justification, and a great deal of support and coaching of the individual to ensure the organisation has done all it can to try and rectify the performance or conduct issues. It is fundamental that the individual is given every opportunity to improve and stay with the organisation and that they are told what the consequences are if they fail to improve.
A claim for unfair dismissal can still be made if the individual feels that they have been discriminated against, or if they feel they have been dismissed because of asserting a statutory right such as whistleblowing or requesting paid holiday. Therefore, ensure you always follow a fair process and adhere to your relevant policies and procedures. If you are unsure, please contact me for advice and support.
In terms of payment during probationary period, it is up to the employer to determine what contractual rights will apply and from when they apply. However, I don’t think it is fair to disadvantage someone in their probationary period – they should get the same rights on day 1 as they do after day 91.
Finally, can I extend someone’s probationary period? An extension of the probationary period might be appropriate when the employee’s performance is unsatisfactory but is showing some signs of continuing improvement. Other occasions when it might be appropriate to extend the time is when a person has had time off work – for example, long term health absence or bereavement leave. Regardless of the circumstances, the extension should be agreed, and additional support put in place to encourage the employee and give them every opportunity to improve their performance and be successful.
In summary, always make sure that you follow your own procedures, that you are paying your employees what they are entitled to as detailed in their contract of employment, and act fairly and reasonably in your management of their performance. If you have any queries, please don’t hesitate to contact me for further advice.
Thanks for reading!