Tue 13 May 2014

Report finds that one fifth of staff fail probationary period or have it extended

I noticed an interesting report in the Telegraph on the subject of probationary periods. The Telegraph has reported that almost one fifth of all new employees either fail their probationary period or have it extended.

The statistics come from a study carried out by Spring Personnel. They asked 403 managers to provide a list of the reasons why they had ever failed an employee's probationary period. Only 13% reported they had never seen an employee fail their probationary period.

The top reasons that employees do not successfully complete their probationary period all relate to the employer having doubts about whether the employee can do the job or whether they fit into the workplace.

The most common reasons for managers not passing an employee's probationary period are:

  1. Poor performance - named by 62% of employers;
  2. Absence - named by around 50% of employers;
  3. Lateness - named by around 25% of employers;
  4. Gross misconduct - named by around 30% of employers;
  5. Sickness - named by around 30% of employers.

It is interesting, but not surprising, to see sickness on the list and in most cases an employer will be able to dismiss for poor attendance during the probationary period. Employers do need to be careful though that the absences are not disability related which could give rise to a claim under the Equality Act.

The study also surveyed around 1500 employees about their experiences of probationary periods. 22% said that they put in more effort during their probationary period than they do when they have passed them. However, employees also feel under pressure during the probationary period. Around 50% say they felt "insecure" and around 25% felt "worried".

Even if a company does not feel able to pass an employee's probationary period the research shows that 80% will be prepared to extend it to give them more time to come to a decision. Despite the scope of the survey, Spring Personnel report that the majority of employees they asked had positive experiences of probationary periods.

Probationary periods are a very useful tool for employers when assessing a new employee's performance. It should though be remembered that employees now require 2 years' service before they can raise an unfair dismissal claim. This means that an employee does not enjoy much by way of job security until they have been with their employer for two years. I have had experience of employers being of the view that it is more difficult to dismiss an employee once their probationary period has expired. That is not generally the case though and provided that the employment is terminated more than one full week before the employee acquires 2 years' service then, in most cases, there will be nothing that the employee can do. There are exceptions to the 2 year period including dismissals due to unlawful discrimination and dismissals as a result of an employee raising certain statutory rights so employers do still need to be careful. However, in most cases, a dismissal for poor performance (provided it is not related to a disability) will not be unfair provided that the employee has less than two years' service.

For more information on dismissals where an employee has less than two years' service see Jillian Paton's, article on dismissing employees with less than two years' service.

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