Should I use a probationary period for new employees?

Wednesday March 16, 2022

Are you currently hiring for your business? The Great Resignation has resulted in an all time high for job vacancies, putting recruitment firmly on the agenda for many employers in 2022.

There are many important steps to the recruitment process to help you find and recruit the right people for your business.

As such, it can take time and be a costly process to find the ideal candidate. Even more so if a new hire doesn’t work out as you had hoped. However good the interview and tests were there is always a question as to whether the candidate will demonstrate the same level of knowledge, skill and attitude on the job. This is why a probationary period is a good idea.

What is a probation period for employees?

A probation period is much like a trial. It is a set amount of time at the start of employment for a new employee to really show that they are the right person for the job.

When a probationary period is over, performance reviews should have taken place and a decision made to either confirm employment, terminate, or extend the probationary period for further review.

How long should a probation period be?

This is really up to you and will depend on your business needs. However, a reasonable length is expected. As a guide, a probation period is usually between three and six months.

When deciding the length of probationary periods for your new hires, have a think about what the employee will need to learn and what it is that you will need to review, allowing enough time for this to take place.

As probationary periods are not covered by any specific employment law the length, as well as the terms, of employee probationary periods will need to be detailed in your employment contracts.

Notice during probation periods

The statutory minimum notice period after one month’s employment is one week unless otherwise specified in the employee’s contract.

A short notice period during probation can speed up the process of dismissing someone who has turned out to be not right for the role. Keep in mind that the employee can also decide that the job isn’t for them and give you the same amount of notice.

If dismissing the employee as unsuitable, check to see if your disciplinary process is contractual. If it is you must follow it properly or risk a wrongful dismissal claim.

Hopefully though it has been a resounding success, in which case remember to congratulate them in writing.

Managing an employee on probation

Inductions and probation periods go hand in hand.

A thorough induction will allocate time for introductions, training, document review, workstation set up and so on. It should also specify how and when performance reviews will take place.

Making time for feedback is important in these early stages as it can help you to tell the difference between minor communication hiccups or bigger issues that suggest things aren’t going to plan.

These review sessions will help you to judge the success of the probation period or whether an extension would be necessary.

Employment law still applies

Although the employee will not have the requisite two years to claim unfair dismissal, they could make a claim for unlawful deduction from wages, discrimination, or wrongful dismissal.

Do remember that statutory employment rights still apply to employees working their probation.

This includes the national minimum wage, statutory sick pay and holiday pay which accrues from day one.

Many benefits are detailed in a contract as starting after the successful completion of a probationary period. So, companies will use the three-month period before enrolling the person into the pension scheme.

Help from your HR Dept

If you’re reviewing your recruitment process and are thinking about introducing probation for new employees, or you’d like some advice on how to have successful probationary periods in your business, we can help.

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