How Long is a Probation Period? Guide to Trial Periods at Work

So you’ve landed a new job and there’s going to be a trial period? These are commonly used to make sure you’re a good fit for the role. It’s common to feel uncertain when starting a new job, and wonder how long a probation period is going to be.

We’ll look at what you can expect during your employee probationary period, and the most common lengths of time it can take to pass.

What is a Probation Period?

A probation period is a trial period at the start of employment, and is used to make sure a new employee is a good fit for a role. Once the employee is meeting all performance requirements, they will pass their trial.

During the work trial, notice periods are likely to be shorter. This means that both parties can exit the employment contract more quickly if the job isn’t working out. After passing, employees will usually have better contractual benefits. This might include things like enhanced sick pay.

There’s a lot you can do to make sure you’re successful in passing a probation period at work, so try not to get anxious or feel pressured about your work trial.

A probation period should not be confused with a trial shift – if you’ve been offered a work trial, our detailed guide explains what you can expect.

Average Probation Period Lengths

In most cases your probation period will be complete in no more than 6 months. Once you’ve passed, you’ll likely have more contractual benefits and a longer notice period.  

Sometimes a probation period extension is necessary to make sure you are up to speed with all aspects of the role. If this happens, don’t worry – it’s completely routine.

3 and 6 month probation periods are normal in most jobs. If this is the first time you’ve encountered a work trial, don’t let it concern you

3 Month Probation Period

A 3 month probationary period is common for most roles. This 12 week trial period will allow you to demonstrate competency in your new job.

At the end, there will be a probation review meeting at which your performance will be discussed. Once you’ve passed, you should be given a letter confirming you are now a full employee.

6 Month Probation Period

A 6 month probation period might be used if your new job has a range of skills and competencies you’ll need to achieve.

It’s not uncommon for a 3 month probation period to be extended out to 6 months. This is to give you a chance to meet all expectations within your job. Don’t worry if this happens. If your employer didn’t think you could pass they would simply fail your probation and bring the contract to an end.

12 Month  Probation Period

12 month probation periods are uncommon in the UK. They may be used for managerial or higher level roles that need a longer period to assess performance.

Some sales roles will have a 12 month probation as it can take longer to see the performance of the employee.

What’s the Longest a Probation Period Can Be?

There’s no provision within UK employment law governing how long a probationary period can be. It is expected that it should be reasonable.

When you start a job which features a trial period, it’s important to read your contract and see what it says about how long probation will be. It should also mention what will happen if your probation is extended.

Your employer can only increase the length of probation if your contract has a term saying this can happen, and outlining the process.  

Probation Periods & Statutory Employment Rights

Probation is a contractual clause that employers add for new employees. It does not affect your statutory employment rights. This includes the right to minimum wage, holiday pay, sick pay, and maternity rights.

A trial period at work generally means you don’t get enhanced contractual benefits. It can never remove your rights under UK employment law. If a contract says you aren’t entitled to any or all of your statutory employment rights, it is not enforceable.

If this happens to you, contact ACAS for advice. They can help you take action against your employer to protect your rights.

Our in depth guide also looks at probation periods & UK law.

What Happens at the End of Probation?

At the end of probation, you should have a review meeting to discuss your performance with your manager.

At the meeting you will be told if you have passed, or failed your probation. If you are likely to be fired at the end of probation, you should also be told in advance that dismissal is a possible outcome of your meeting. You should have more than one review meeting, or be given ongoing feedback about your performance.

When you pass probation, you should be given a letter confirming this.

Passing Probation by Default

If the probation period stated in your contract of employment passes, and you get no confirmation, you will have passed probation by default.

Can Probation End Early?

Probation can be ended early if both you and your employer are happy with performance.

Similarly, if your employer feels you aren’t a good fit for the job,  or isn’t happy with your performance, they may choose to terminate your contract before the period is up.


What happens after a 3 month probation period?

After a 3 month probationary period, you should have a performance review. At this point you will either pass probation, have your probationary period extended, or be told you have failed.

Is 6 months probation normal?

A 6 month probation period is very common in the UK employment market. The most commonly used period lengths are 3 months and 6 months. It’s unusual for an employment trial period to last longer than this.

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