Extending Probation Periods – a Guide to UK Law & Rules

You’ve just been given the news at your review that the probationary period is set to be extended. It’s normal to be left questioning the rules on extending a probation period. You may well be feeling deflated and wondering what you have done wrong.

However, an extended probation period at work is not a disaster. The fact is that sometimes, longer is needed to see if you are ready to become a fully fledged employee.

If you’ve been asked to carry on with your probation period longer than hoped, it doesn’t mean you won’t progress.


How are Probation Periods Used?

Over the years, probation periods have become a common feature of the workplace. Not only does it give the employer time to monitor a potential employee’s suitability but it also benefits the employees.

It means they can get a feel for the job role and the people they will be working with. This time is used as a trial to see if expectations from all sides are going to be met.

Probation periods are usually still tied to a contract and so bound by the terms in it. That said, a probationary employee might not have the same rights and benefits those who have passed probation.


How Long are Probation Periods?

Probation periods differ in length and can depend on many factors. This can include the size of the business and its own contractual rules.

There are no set rules about minimum and maximum time frames and they are at the employer’s discretion. However, the law says that the probation period should be “reasonable”.

The most common probation periods are 3 months long. However, it is not uncommon to use 6 month or year long probations.


Situations where Probation May be Extended

There are times when the probation period isn’t long enough to know for sure if the candidate is the right fit.

This doesn’t mean the work ethic is lacking or a good job isn’t being carried out though. It may be that a few issues have arisen during the probation period such as personality clashes, and sick leave. Sometimes it may even be the employee asking for it to be extended.

An extension of probation should not be considered a punishment. You should instead view it as giving more time to show your strengths.

It can take a while to get into the groove of things in a new job and you may only begin to shine after some months. In this situation, an extension would work in your favour.

You will often get extra support and training during this period, which will make settling into your job easier.

Here are a few common situations where probation can be extended:-


Performance Improvements

There may be some flaws with an employee’s overall performance and this needs more careful review. This can vary from not completing deadlines on time or maybe not fulfilling the role as expected.

Lack of confidence or taking a while to learn the ropes can affect a person’s performance. That means longer is needed to give them a fair review. Perhaps the employee could be mentored by a senior member of staff to boost their confidence.

Additional workplace training has the potential to improve overall performance too.


Improving Attendance or Timekeeping

If attendance or tardiness has become an issue then your employer may well insist on extending probation.

There will be an expectation that you will become better at timekeeping. This will then be reviewed after the next period has passed. Good attendance and timekeeping are essential aspects of a business’s overall productivity and reputation.


Fitting in with the Team

One of the biggest hurdles with a new job is getting familiar with the role. An important part of this is fitting in with the rest of the team.

Should there be any conflicts or personality clashes then the employer may wish to monitor this for a while longer. Bad feelings among the team can result in a lack of motivation, and this situation can affect staff morale. When morale is low, it follows that tasks may suffer as a result. 

When extending the probation period, for this reason, it’s important to get to the bottom of any potential staffing issues. These can then be resolved over the next period.


Having Time Off Sick

Sickness can happen anytime. Sometimes, sickness absence can delay everyone getting what they need out of the probation period. If an employee has needed time off due to sickness then it may be necessary to prolong probation.

This is particularly the case if the probation period is relatively short and the employee has had a large proportion of it off sick. Illness doesn’t mean someone can’t do a good job but it can mean that it is hard to review their overall performance.

Our guide on being off sick during probation has more in depth information.


How Long Should an Extension Be?

There are no set rules in place for how long an extension to probation should be. However,it should be reasonable. It is also very important to ensure extensions are covered in the contract.

The contract should include the right to increase a probation period if it is felt necessary and should also state the increased timeframe too. If this information is not in the contract then an employee does not have to agree to this extension.


Should I be Worried if my Probation is Extended?

It will probably be a bit of a blow to find out your boss is extending your probation period. Hopefully, though it will not come as a huge shock. You should have some idea why this extension has been suggested.

People take different amounts of time to adjust to a new situation and step up to their role. If your employer didn’t think you had potential, they would not bother extending your probation. They would instead opt to end the contract. So don’t worry if passing probation is taking longer than you hoped.

Extension can be a positive step because it shows your boss sees your potential. As long as the extension and its terms are set out in the contract, then there is no reason to worry about this process.

If your manager was sure you’d be failing your probation, they would let you go.


What Happens at the End of Probation?

Ideally, your employer should lay out the terms of your probation period very clearly so that you know where you stand.

They should talk you through the entire process including what happens at the end of your probation period. In most situations, a review meeting will take place, maybe more than one depending on the length of probation.

This review should happen before the expiration date when you effectively find out if you have passed the probationary period. If getting fired during probation is a possibility, you should be informed of this before your meeting.


Passing Probation by Default

If the probation period passes with no review and no chat with the boss then you can assume you have finished the probationary period.

This means once this time has lapsed your employer shouldn’t try and extend it unless there’s a clause in the probation agreement which allows it.

If there’s no such clause they shoulddiscussing it with you, and get your agreement to these new contractual conditions. It is best for all parties to know exactly where they stand with the probation period so that there isn’t any conflict further down the line. This includes granting an extension.

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