What are the legal requirements regarding probation periods?
Employment probation periods are not a legal requirement. However, an employer may use them if they include the conditions for the probation period in the employee’s contract of employment. As the contract is legally binding, the terms of the probation period also become legally binding when included in that employment contract.
What about your employee rights and benefits during a probation period? Despite working on a probationary basis, you still have all the statutory rights that any employee would have. These start from day one of your employment, that is, day one of your probationary period. These include the right to be paid the minimum wage, to receive paid holiday, and to be protected from discrimination.
Certain employee benefits, however, may be delayed or restricted until you pass your probationary period. Restricted benefits might include bonus payments or private healthcare schemes. Employers are within their rights to restrict certain employee benefits during the probationary period.
How long will a probation period last?
There’s no legal ruling as to how long a probation period must last. Generally, it can be as short as one month or as long as six months. On rare occasions, a probation period may last for a year.
The employer may extend the probation period if the possibility of extension is stated in your contract of employment.
What you can reasonably expect from the employer
The process that employers use to handle employee probationary periods will vary but you can reasonably expect:
- to be made aware that you will work a probationary period at the beginning of your employment, no later than at the point of job offer
- the details of the probationary period to be included in your contract of employment in whatever format that takes, for instance, a written contract or job offer letter and written statement of employment particulars
- to have access to employee rights from day one of your employment
- to be treated fairly and without discrimination in adherence with the Equality Act 2010 and Employment Rights Act 1996
- that your probationary period will only be extended if the possibility of the extension was stated in your contract of employment
- an in-person explanation from your manager of:
- what you must achieve to pass the probation period
- what is expected of you as an employee
- any induction and training you will face
- how your performance will be monitored
- what feedback you’ll receive and when
- how problems with your performance will be handled
- review meetings during and at the end of the probationary period
- the chance to appeal if the employer chooses to dismiss you at the end of the probation period
Outcomes of a probation period
There are four outcomes to an employment probation period. These are:
You’ve met all the achievements set at the beginning of the probation period and worked well as an employee. At this point, your role with the employer is confirmed and you can take advantage of employee benefits that were restricted during your probation period. You will receive this news in writing or by email.
Extension of probation period
If the employer is still unsure whether you are the right fit for the job by the end of the probation period, they may choose to extend the probation further. They can only do this if they have included the possibility of an extension in your contract of employment.
During or at the end of the probation period, you have the right to hand in your resignation. You must give the length of notice laid out in your contract of employment and meet any other stated conditions, such as resigning in writing.
If the length of notice isn’t mentioned in your contract of employment, you must give the statutory notice of one week once you have worked in the role for more than a month. If you have worked in the role for less than a month, there is no legal requirement for you to give any notice, but it may be in your best interests to stick to the one week. It’s never a good idea to leave an employer on bad terms if it can be avoided.
Should the employer decide that your probation period has been unsuccessful, they may dismiss you. However, they must have reasonable grounds for doing so and be able to demonstrate these grounds.
Being dismissed at this point shouldn’t come as a surprise; review meetings during the probation period should have already highlighted any problems.
You’ll be given the notice laid out in your contract of employment, paid in lieu of notice (PILON), or be given garden leave.
Employers use probation periods as a final check that they have hired the right person for the job, but it can be an uncomfortable situation for a new employee. The best way to handle it is to make sure that it is documented in your employment contract, you are provided with your full employee rights, and that you know exactly how to meet the employer’s probation standards.