Work to rule: Probationary periods

A probationary period can be helpful to both employer and new employee, says Emma Burrows

Probationary periods
Probationary periods

Used correctly, a probationary period can be helpful to both employer and new employee. In general, each new employee will be subject to a probationary period before their position is confirmed. The purpose of a probationary period is to establish the suitability of a new employee for the role that has been offered to them and to iron out any issues there might be in the new employee's performance over the first three months or so.

It is advisable for the employee's suitability for the position to be assessed half way through the probationary period, and again just before its completion. If at any point there are concerns over the probationary employee's performance and whether he or she will successfully complete the probationary period, these should be discussed with the employee at the earliest opportunity. This will mean that the employee is made aware that their performance is not currently reaching acceptable standards and is given the opportunity to improve.

If the probationary period is extended to give the employee an extra chance to meet the required standards, the reason for the extension of the probationary period must be properly explained to them and a realistic timetable for improvement should be drawn up. It should be made clear that a failure to meet the required standards will result in the employee's dismissal. Full and comprehensive notes should be kept of any performance and review meetings held with the employee.

It is important that charities contain a provision in their probationary policy, or in the contract of employment itself, for early termination of the probationary period by either party. For more junior employees, this period of notice can be as little as a week; for more senior employees, it is more likely to be a month.

Another provision that is worth including relates to holidays. The probationary policy should make it clear that, for those who do not successfully complete their probationary period, any holiday they have taken that has exceeded the pro rata number of days accrued will be deducted from the money owed to the employee.

It is also advisable to make it clear to the employee that the charity's disciplinary procedures will not apply during any probationary period.

- Emma Burrows is a partner and head of the employment group at Trowers & Hamlins solicitors

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