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What is a Probation Period and What does it means for you

What is a Probation Period

What is the meaning of a "probationary period"?

There is no legal definition of (or requirement for) a "probationary period". However, the term is generally understood to mean a period of time at the commencement of employment during which an employer can assess the employee's ability and suitability for the role. A probationary period can be helpful, although it should be considered nothing more than a management tool. There is no prescribed length of the probationary period as this will depend very much on the nature of the job. A 3-6 month period is not uncommon.

Probationary period myths

There is a common misconception that employers have carte blanche to treat employees however they like during a probationary period. However, no service is necessary for an employee to bring a claim alleging, for instance, that they have been discriminated against, dismissed for some reason related to health and safety or because they have "blown the whistle".

In terms of the notice, an employee who has been employed for more than one month but less than two years is entitled to at least one week's notice of termination. This is the case whether or not there is a probationary period or that period has been successful (contractual information may be more than the statutory minimum).

It may be thought that an employee's continuous service only begins after the probation period is over. This is incorrect. Employment starts from the employee's first day of work, as do their contractual rights. Having said this, although an employee's statutory rights cannot be altered, the employment contract may state that certain contractual benefits commence once the probationary period has been completed.

Terminating employment during or at the end of a probationary period

While an employee will require continuous service of two years or more to bring an ordinary unfair dismissal claim, it is best to follow some form of procedure before dismissing an employee. For instance, this will ensure a record of the dismissal and the reasons for it should any challenge be presented at a later date. Employers should also check any contractual position about the procedure for dismissal.

Implementing effective probationary periods

Regular review meetings should occur during a probationary period to address any initial performance issues or specific goals to be discussed. Feedback should be given to the employee on their progress and whether or not they are meeting the employer's expectations. A written record should be kept of the feedback given to the employee, a copy kept on the employee's file, and a copy given to the employee.

It is also sensible to ensure a positive obligation on the employer to confirm that the probationary period has been completed successfully. This will reduce the chance of an employee successfully completing their probation "by default" simply because the end of the period comes and goes without being noticed or addressed.

The probationary period can be extended to give the employer more time to assess the employee's ability and/or give the employee more time to improve their performance.  For advice or more information around any of the issues discussed, get in touch. 

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