Extending a probation period: an employer’s guide and template letter

Posted on February 26, 2021
Posted by Frankie Mundy

Extending a probation periodSometimes when your employees get to the end of their probation period you may feel that whilst you cannot pass them yet, you would like to give them a chance to improve their performance. In such cases, you could consider extending their probation period. You should inform your employee of your decision in their final scheduled probation review meeting and follow-up in writing to confirm the arrangements for the extension. Use this template letter extending a probation period to provide your confirmation in writing. 

We’ve set out a refresher below on what probation periods are, how they should be managed and how to extend them if necessary. 

 

Probation period

What is a probation period?

A probation period is essentially a trial period for new hires. It’s a period of time at the beginning of an employment relationship where new employees are assessed for their suitability to the role. This will typically be done through a series of performance reviews, which will ultimately result in the employee either successfully passing their probation, failing their probation and being dismissed, or the employer extending their probation for a further period. It might also be called a probationary period.

Employees can usually be dismissed with less notice during their probation, and given that there are far fewer reasons that an employee with less than two years’ service can make an unfair dismissal claim, it can be an appropriate time to dismiss an employee who is not meeting your expectations. Employees can also usually give less notice if they want to quit while they’re on probation. 

 

Should I include probation periods in my employment contracts?

It’s typical to include a probation period in your employment contracts, especially for junior members of staff. The probationary period is the ideal time to manage the performance of a new hire by setting the standards that you expect from your staff and disciplining them for any failures to meet those standards. 

 

What should my employment contracts say about probationary periods?

Your contracts should set out the length of any probationary period and, in some cases, you may wish to attach conditions to your employee’s probationary period (eg requiring them to successfully complete a particular training course). It’s also a good idea to draft your contracts to ensure that employees remain in their probationary period until you confirm in writing that they have successfully completed it. This will help to prevent employees from inadvertently passing. Finally, you should consider including a discretionary option for you to extend the probation period if necessary. 

Importantly, if you will be setting probationary periods for your employees (or casual workers), you must give them written confirmation of this on or before their first day of work for you (eg in a written contract). The information you give them must include any conditions that are attached to the probationary period and how long it will last for. 

Our template employment contracts give you the option to specify a probationary period for new hires. For more information about including probationary periods in your contracts, see our Q&A on employment contracts

 

How long is a probation period?

Between one and six months is typical for an employment probation, but it will depend on the nature of the job. 

 

Probation period review

How do I manage the performance of an employee during their probationary period?

You should take steps to manage the performance of an employee during their probation, including giving guidance or advice. Many businesses hold a series of performance reviews at set intervals throughout the probation period. These reviews are used to monitor how the employee is performing and settling into the role. For example, you may schedule an initial review at the end of the first week, a mid-probation review and a final review at the end of the period, depending on what is appropriate for your business.

 

What is a probation period review form?

It is a good idea to use a probation period review form to keep a record of how the employee is progressing. You can use this probation review form to set objectives for the employee at the beginning of their probation period and assess their performance alongside those objectives as they move through their probation. Using probation period review forms will help to ensure that you are acting fairly, consistently and transparently when dealing with staff who are on probation to avoid claims being brought against you (eg for discrimination). 

For further guidance about managing staff performance, including while they are on probation, see our Q&A on managing staff performance

 

What happens at the end of the probation period?

At the final probation review you have three options:

  1. confirm that the employee has passed their probation;
  2. inform the employee that they have failed their probation and that their employment with your business is terminated; or
  3. if the employee has not passed their probation but you want to give them a chance to improve, you could consider extending the probation period.

 

Confirming that an employee has passed their probation

If you are pleased with the way in which your employee has performed during their probation period, you should let them know during their final review that their employment with you will continue. You should follow this up with a confirmation in writing after the meeting; this template letter will help you do that. 

 

Dismissing an employee who is on probation 

If, at the end of their probationary period, you decide that your employee has not passed and that you will be terminating their contract, you should inform them of this in person at your final review meeting. You should follow this up with a confirmation in writing after the meeting, providing practical information about termination of their employment. This template letter will help you to do this. 

The rules are less stringent for dismissing employees during their first two years working for you, but it’s still good practice to follow a fair process (and make sure you comply with any probation policy you may have!). For more detailed guidance on the process to follow when dismissing an employee during their probation, see our Q&A on the process for dismissing employees

 

Extending a probation period

 

What is a probation period extension?

It’s a period of time after the end of the initial probation period to give your employee the opportunity to improve their performance or meet their targets. 

 

Can I extend my employee's probationary period?

If your new employee’s performance has not reached the standard expected by the end of their probationary period, then yes you can consider extending the probation to give them a chance to improve.

Make sure you comply with any provisions in your employee’s contract and/or any HR policy you have about extending a probation period (eg specifying how long they can be extended for). If your employee’s contract does not give you discretion to extend the probationary period, you will have to seek your employee’s agreement to an extension. 

 

How long can I extend a probationary period for?

Between one and six months is typical for an extension, but make sure you comply with any probationary period HR policy you have and/or any provisions in your employee’s contract about extending a probation period. 

 

How do I extend my employee's probationary period?

You should inform your employee of your decision in person at their final review meeting and then follow-up with a written confirmation setting out the arrangements for the extension. It is normally good practice to provide written confirmation to staff in respect of decisions taken about their employment with you. This will help to avoid the risk of miscommunication with your staff member and to ensure that you have clear internal HR records.

Use our template letter to confirm the arrangements for the extension with your employee.

 

Template letter extending a probation period 

This template letter extending a probation period will help you finalise a probation extension and it is customisable to your particular HR situation. If you are an employer extending a probation period, use this letter to confirm: 

  1. that your employee has not reached the performance standard expected during their probationary period, explaining why;
  2. that you have consequently decided to extend your employee’s probation to provide them with an opportunity to improve; and
  3. the practicalities for the probation period extension (eg how long it will last and how their progress will be reviewed). 

 

The content in this article is up to date at the date of publishing. The information provided is intended only for information purposes, and is not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Sparqa Legal’s Terms of Use apply.