Focus on probationary periods

Nov 11, 2013

Focus on Probationary Periods by Julia Homan of Just HR Solutions


HR is about evidence and here’s why:

The purpose of the probationary period is for both parties to get to know each other and the job, and it usually lasts for a period of three months.  But things don’t always work out quite how you thought they would!  You may discover that the person you recruited doesn’t actually have the skills that you need or that they claimed to have.  So what can you do?

Well, the key is that right from the start you should set out your expectations in the contract and handbook.  You should also have a job description because it’s hard to take action against someone for not having a skill when you haven’t identified that as being a core skill for the job.

You should hold formal Probationary Review meetings with the new employee at regular intervals and as a minimum at the end of week 1, month 1 and month 2.  This gives you a chance to evaluate their performance and to identify and fill any gaps in their skill set.

As you approach the end of month three, the individual should have a very clear idea of what the outcome of the probationary period is going to be based on the feedback you have given them.  Nothing you say at the end of the probationary period should come as a surprise to the employee.  It’s about managing expectations.

So at the end of month 3 there are three possible outcomes:


  1. If you dismiss, you need evidence of how you monitored the employee’s performance and of why they didn’t meet the job specification or how they weren’t suitable.  Confirm it in writing.
  2. If you extend, you can do so for up to three months but it must be a “reasonable” extension that is proportionate to the complexity or otherwise of the job.  Confirm it in writing.
  3. If they are successful you need to write to them to confirm the fact and confirm any other benefits that they might now be eligible for as a permanent employee.


A word of caution though.  Just because your new employee has passed their probationary period, don’t stop reviewing their performance, or the performance of the rest of your staff.  Employees may meet your expectations when they know you’re monitoring them and then fall behind when you’re not, so don’t let them!

And another!  Insert a clause that states that the Probationary period will not be deemed to have been completed until a formal meeting has been arranged to discuss the outcome of the probationary period, even if that meeting takes place technically after the three month probationary period has expired.

HR is mostly about evidence and being able to use that evidence.

Top Tips:

  • Keep a separate notebook that is dedicated to employee conduct, performance and behaviour.
  • Make notes of important conversations.
  • Confirm conversations in writing.
  • Recognise when you’re out of your depth and take advice – it doesn’t have to cost you the earth to take professional HR advice but it just might cost you your business if you don’t.


To contact Julia for a free health-check of your HR system, please click here.

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