Probationary Periods

The purpose of a probationary period is to provide a suitable amount of time in which the employer can assess the employee. The length of probation is likely to depend on the nature of the job and how long it will take the employer to assess performance for the purposes of confirming continued employment. It is not unusual to see probationary periods of three or six months and for the employee's contract to provide that, during the probationary period, their employment can be terminated on shorter notice (often one week) than the notice to which they will be entitled once probation is successfully completed and the employee is confirmed in employment.

The employer needs to structure an employee's probationary period to ensure that:

  • The employee is aware from the outset of the approach that the employer intends to follow and, if applicable to their particular probation, any specific goals or attainments that they are expected to achieve and the dates on which any progress meetings will take place.
  • Information on the employee's performance can be gathered and considered by the employer in good time. It is important not to wait until the end of the probationary period to discover that an employee is under-performing.
  • Feedback is given to the employee on their progress and whether or not they are meeting the employer's expectations.
  • The employer decides whether to confirm the employee in employment and communicate this decision to the employee (giving notice to terminate employment if necessary) before the end of the probationary period. By putting itself under a positive obligation to do this, the employer reduces the chance of an employee successfully completing their probation "by default" simply because the end of the probationary period comes and goes without being noticed or addressed.

Extending a Probationary Period
If an employee is failing to meet the employer's expectations, guidance should be given on the standards of performance and/or behaviour the employee needs to achieve. Where considered necessary, and only if the employer has a contractual right to extend the probationary period, before the original probationary period expires the employer can notify the employee that their probation is being extended. 

Disclaimer: This article does not contain a full statement of the law and it does not constitute legal advice. Please contact the Employment Law Team on 020 3743 0600 if you have any questions about the information set out above.

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