Probationary Periods

Why probation periods are good for business

Hiring staff can be fraught with danger, which is why probation periods are an essential tool for all managers and business owners. In this article, I highlight why you need to ensure your HR onboarding process acts as a safety net.

As an experienced HR consultant, I have seen and heard about plenty of horror stories involving new employees. While robust processes should eliminate much of the risk surrounding recruitment, serious issues may only arise over time. That’s why probation periods are an essential part of your HR toolbox.

What is a probation period?

In employment terms, the phrase “probation period” essentially covers the time when new recruits are on trial with an organisation. Typically, probation periods last for three to six months, but can extend to one year in certain roles.

Probation only applies to the start of someone’s employment, you can’t enforce it later on. This is because new employees are exempt from certain contractual items. For example, anyone on probation may will not be eligible for company pension schemes and other benefits.

Also, in the first month, the employer or employee is not obliged to give any notice. However, from the second month the statutory notice period is one week up to two years, unless the contract states otherwise.

I recommend that it is good HR practice to use management software that alerts employers when probation periods are due to end.

How do dismissal rights differ in probation periods?

Some managers wrongly believe that new staff can be let go for no reason during their probation period. While new starters will not qualify for protection from unfair dismissal, normal rules apply for harassment and dismissal relating to protected characteristics (i.e. gender, age, ethnicity, disability, religion and cultural background).

It is also worth noting that employees under probation are offered an element of protection from wrongful dismissal. These instances are usually caused by procedural errors when an employer fails to follow its own contractual dismissal process.

Consider probation as part of the hiring process

Rather than looking at probation periods in isolation, I advise my clients to review their entire recruitment process to ensure it is legally compliant and fit for purpose. From the job advert to arranging practical assessments, every stage is aimed at producing the most suitable candidates.

However, having a successful hiring strategy does not mean that it will be perfect. There is still the risk that your organisation appoints someone who fails to perform or is not suited to the role. The probation period allows employers to evaluate new recruits in relation to their practical skills, qualifications, personality and professionalism.

Managing and extending probation periods

Recruiting is a significant investment for employers, so you need to check that every employee meets your requirements. Probationary periods are designed to give employers the chance to effectively manage their new recruits, including the option of using extensions prior to offering a permanent contract.

If a manager still has certain concerns about a new starter’s performance, an extension gives them the chance to improve. While UK law does not state a maximum length of probation periods, in my experience employers should avoid the situation from dragging on.

Every probation period needs to culminate in a review meeting between the employee and the line manager. Even if a boss has no doubts about the person, a formal meeting can provide feedback on progress, gauge how they feel and identify training needs.

If you have a question about recruitment, I am an established HR consultant based in Bedfordshire with clients across the UK. If you need help of advice, call me on 07715 026128 or email

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