A probationary period is usually given to workers when they start a new job.  It is a contractual pre-determined period of time whereby the employee should work towards becoming a fully performing team member as well as a period whereby the both company and the employee can assess their suitability for the role.

For a truly successful probationary period, employers should offer a structured induction programme to enable the new employee to become fully up to speed with both the role and the company. 

Although there is no law on the length of time a probationary period should be, the time period for a reasonable probationary period would typically be between 3 and 6 months with the contractual right to extend this period (typically an extension would be for no longer than the original probationary period).  Usually during a probationary period, the notice period on both sides is significantly shorter than post probation.

Although you don’t need to have one of these legally, and some employees may in fact try to negotiate not having a probationary period, there are significant advantages to them when written properly into an employee contract.

Of course, for a new employee (with the exception of cases of automatic unfair dismissal), there is no right to claim unfair dismissal until they have been employed for 2 years.  So you may be asking yourself, what is the point of a probationary period?

Firstly, it encourages a period of time for you to have a structured on-boarding and induction programme which will give the employee all the skills and knowledge to be a fully performing member of the team by the end of the designated probationary period. This should be reviewed regularly to ensure they are on track and in line with your expectations.  We would always recommend issuing on the first day a structured plan for the duration of an employee’s probationary period with regular pulse checks to ensure you are both on track and provide regular structured feedback on an employees performance throughout. The ownership should be jointly undertaken between the employer and the employee and the responsibilities for driving different aspects should be agreed at the outset. Not only does this provide the structure for both parties, this will also help engagement with your new employee and provide a great first impression – both are essential for retention.

Secondly, it provides a natural period to review an employee’s performance to see whether they are fitting into the company culture and developing into the role as you would expect.

Finally, in the event the relationship for whatever reason is not working, either party has the ability to terminate the relationship without being tied into a lengthy notice period.  This is generally much cheaper for the employer and less of an initial commitment for the employee.  If as an employer, you are unsure of the employees suitability when reaching the end of your probation date, you are able to extend this period (as long as contractually you are able to do so) with a further development plan before making a final decision.

To ensure the probationary period works for you, it is important that the clause relating to this in your contract is worded well to ensure you have the appropriate options.  In addition, it is key that you review the probationary period in a timely manner – running over the end of this and not reviewing can be a costly mistake.

If you need any advice on your probationary clause or managing a probationary period, please do let us know.