As important for the employee as the employer
Firstly let’s define what a probationary period is. For new employees, it is the time between signing an employment contract and being granted permanent employment status. It is a “trial period” during which the employee is being evaluated as a suitable fit for the position and the Organisation. Equally, it is a time frame for the employee to decide if the organisation is a suitable match for them.
Details of a probationary period
Secondly, the details around the probationary period should be clearly outlined in the employees’ contract of employment. This should include:
- the length of the probationary period
- how often the employee will be reviewed during that time,
- what happens at the end of the probationary period and also
- povisions for extending the probationary period should the need arise.
Reviewing the Employee
Probationary periods are usually put in place for an initial period of six months. There is also the option for the employer to extend the probation period up to a maximum period of eleven months. However, there needs to be provision in the contract to extend the probationary period to allow an employer to do so. Probationary periods, including the notice periods, should not exceed twelve months. The reason for this is that the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977 to 2015 (as amended) do not apply to an employee who is dismissed whilst on probation if the duration of the probationary period is one year or less.
However, a word of caution this does not mean that an employer can forego their obligations and processes. An employer is still obliged to afford the employee an opportunity to improve. The employee should have a formal review at the three-month mark. Feedback should be given to them on how they are progressing. Should there be any performance issues at this point, they need to be addressed with the employee. And if needed a performance improvement plan put in place in order to help them improve. Formal probationary reviews should be conducted via a meeting with the employee. It should be documented in writing, placed on their employee file and a copy given to the employee.
Extending the probationary period
Should the need arise an employer can extend an employee’s probation up to eleven months. The reason for eleven months is to take account of the notice period should the employee be dismissed. Prior to this, employers must ensure that
- employees have had a minimum of one formal review and
2. have documented evidence that the employee has been made aware that there are issues with their performance and the need for improvements.
If the employer takes the decision to extend the probationary period, this should be communicated to the employee via a meeting and followed up with a letter in writing. This letter should include:
- how long the extension is for
- the improvements that need to happen in order to be successful and
- a performance improvement plan for these actions.
It is common for employers to provide that their full disciplinary process will not apply to employees who are on probation. However, employers should ensure that employees who are dismissed whilst on probation are given sufficient notice of their dismissal (if applicable). They should also ensure that fair procedures and the principles of natural justice are followed in general terms.
- giving the employee a warning that their performance is not satisfactory
- giving them a chance to improve
- offering some instruction on their role.
Following the end of a successful probationary period the employee should be notified in writing that they have been successful and are now appointed to the permanent staff. If there are any additional benefits from the organisation at this point this should also be outlined in the letter.
Employers should also ensure that they have robust policies in place around probation and performance management.
If you would like further advice and guidance on any of the issues raised here please do not hesitate to get in touch.
About the Author: Maureen Heffernan is Head of HR Service Delivery at Corporate HR Ireland and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org