If you’ve recently gotten a new job, your contract may specify a probation period. This is an increasingly common feature when starting a new role. The length and scope of your probationary period should be specified in your contract of employment before you begin work.
Probation Period Meaning
A probation period is a trial period of employment at the start of a new role.
This means the employee’s role will only be made permanent subject to satisfactory completion of the probationary period. This ensures the new job is working out for both the employee and employer.
Why Have a Probationary Period at Work?
Employers will often carry out an application and interview process. However, you can’t always tell from an interview how an employee will perform in a role, or whether they will fit in with an existing team. A probationary period lets both employee and employer see if the job is a good fit for both parties.
Depending on the contract of employment, there is often a reduced notice period during the term of probation.
How Long Does Probation Usually Last?
A probation period will commonly be 3 to 6 months, though they can be as little as 1 week in short-term contracts.
The duration of any probation period must not be unreasonable. Performance reviews are common during this period, as they give both the employee and employer an opportunity to discuss any concerns. These could be addressed with additional training and support. Regular formal reviews are not, however, compulsory.
The length of the probation period is usually tailored to the type of role. In the case of a 6 month probation period, this is more commonly used for more senior roles. It is uncommon for probation to extend beyond a 3 to 6 month timeframe.
Employee Rights During Probation – UK Law
Your statutory rights during employment start on the first day of employment, regardless of any probation period.
However your contract may give you less favourable terms during a probationary period than after the period has finished.
- A shorter notice period for both you and your employer.
- No entitlement to benefits available to contracted employees, such as private medical care.
- No entitlement to death in service benefit.
Any less favourable terms must not infringe your general statutory employment rights under UK law which include:
- Right to be paid minimum wage.
- Your right to holiday pay.
- Right to itemised pay statement.
- Applicability of working time regulations.
- Protection against workplace discrimination.
- Your right to maternity pay and leave.
Employee rights in probation are still protected, and claims for unfair dismissal during probation can still be brought by workers albeit in a more limited range of circumstances.
Giving Notice in Probation Period
If you’ve decided that you’d like to give notice your job during your trial, you might be wondering if you have to give notice during probation periods.
Often, notice periods are shorter during probation. To find out what notice your employer requires, check your contract of employment. If your contract is silent on the issue then statutory notice is 1 week. If you have been in the role less than one month, there’s no requirement for notice.
Many people who are unhappy in a role wonder if they have to give any notice during the probationary period. Whilst it can be tempting to leave a role that is not turning out well with no notice, it’s advisable to try and serve the notice period.
If your next employer asks for a reference and your old employer discloses you did not serve your notice, it might reflect poorly on you.
What Happens at the End of Probation?
At the end of your probation period you should have a probation meeting with your manager or HR. During the meeting they’ll discuss your performance with you.
There can be 3 outcomes from an end of probation meeting. You can pass probation, have your probation period extended, or you may be informed you have not passed probation and your employment will come to an end.
We’ll look at what should happen in all 3 of these end of probation scenarios, and how you should deal with it.
What if Probation Ends and You Get No Confirmation You’ve Passed?
You would expect to have a formal review at the end of your probation period, and get a letter of confirmation if you’ve passed. However, If you are not told during your probation period that it is to be extended, or that you have failed your probation, you are deemed to have passed by default.
It is important in a situation like this to read your contract. If enhanced rights and benefits depend on a review taking place, you should approach your employer to arrange the appropriate review.
If you have passed probation, you should ideally get a letter confirming your new employment status. If any contractual changes will take place at this point, the letter should outline what changes you can expect.
What Happens After Passing Probation?
After passing probation you may need to sign a new contract with your workplace. Make sure you read and understand the terms of your employment before signing. Also ensure that things like notice periods, sick pay, and holiday entitlements are as you expected before you sign.
If your employer has said that they want to extend your probation period, check your employment contract.
This should say under what circumstances your probationary period can be extended, and for how long. Your employer can only extend your probation period if your employment contract says that they can extend it in specific circumstances (e.g to have more time to assess your performance).
Your employer cannot extend your probationary period for “protected reasons”. These include:-
- Your ethnicity, religion or cultural background.
- Your gender, age or marital status.
If proper probation period reviews have been conducted, being told you’ve failed probation should not come out of the blue.
Employees should have regular meetings to assess progress towards integrating into their new role. If there are any weak points, support should have been provided. Should it be ultimately decided that you have not passed your probationary period, you will likely be served notice.
If this happens, your review meeting should help you understand the reasons that you have failed probation.
Notice periods during probation are often shorter, allowing you to move on and seek a new role.
Sick Leave During Probation
Every employee can suffer illness through no fault of their own. If you become unwell during probation, and need to take sick leave, this is a scenario in which an extension of your probation period is likely.
This is because your employer has not yet had chance to fully assess your performance in the role.
If your contract does not allow your employer to extend your probation period, they may wish to change the contract. You do not have to agree to change your contract.
If you think that the proposed changes are unfair or less favourable to you, speak to your local Citizens Advice Bureau for free advice about your options.
Our guide on your rights to sick leave on probation has more in depth information.
Dismissal During Probationary Period
Just because you were in your probation period does not automatically make your dismissal fair. The usual test still applies: Did your employer act reasonably in all the circumstances?
Your employer has a duty to take reasonable steps to assist employees such as giving them adequate training to enable them to carry out their job. If you are dismissed on the basis of your performance, you would normally expect a reasonable employer to have discussed your performance with you on a prior occasion and given you the opportunity to try and do better.
When You Can Claim Unfair Dismissal During Probation Period
You cannot claim for unfair dismissal during your probationary period as you will not have worked the relevant qualifying employment period.
However you can still claim for:-
- Dismissal due to “whistle-blowing”.
- Dismissal due to a “protected reason”/ discrimination.
“I’ve started a new job on 3 months probation period, which is almost over (1 week) and have found out I’m pregnant. I have told my boss the date I’d like to work up until before maternity leave. He said he’s not going to extend it and wouldn’t give me a reason why and said that he doesn’t have to. Is this the correct way to treat an employee?”
Potentially, you could take your former employer to an Employment Tribunal and claim damages. However you will need to have evidence relating to why you were dismissed.
For example, if you can evidence that your former employer said something racially discriminatory, or that all other employees of a different ethnicity with the same review scores are being kept on, that would be more relevant evidence.)
If you think that you have been unfairly dismissed during your probation period, speak to your local Citizens Advice Bureau about what you can do. Our guide on what happens if you get pregnant during probation has more information and links to organisations offering support.
Probation Period FAQ’s
If your employer does not arrange a meeting or extend your probation period by the date specified, you are considered to have passed probation by default.
If your employer has extended your probation period, it need not cause worry. They may feel you need a little more time to demonstrate you are capable in all areas of your role. It’s worth asking for feedback and support on what you need to do to pass.
A 6 month probationary period is pretty standard within many roles. A 6 month period is often the norm within a more senior role. However, if a job requires a high degree of skill and trust this length of probation might also be used. Often, it will be down to the discretion of the workplace and should not be cause for concern.
Yes, you can leave a job during the probation period if the role is not working out for you. In terms of how much notice you give, check your work contract. The notice period during probation is often shorter. If nothing is laid out about how long the probationary notice period is, one week is the statutory minimum notice period in UK employment law.