It’s well known that probations extended past 12 months run the risk of redress under the Unfair Dismissals Acts. However, employers also need to be aware that employees can have redress from day one of employment under section 20 of the Industrial Relations Acts 1969, or indeed the Employment Equality Acts where reasons for termination are discriminatory in the employee’s view.
Essentially, probation is a time to assess a new hire’s suitability. Employers who view probation management as a natural extension to the hiring process, who communicate well and who deftly demonstrate fair process can save themselves costly headaches in the long run.
- Align Expectations
Ensure you align expectations early by including a robust probation clause in the contract of employment. The clause should cover, at a minimum, the purpose of probation as being time to assess the employees’ suitability, the duration of the probation period, that probation review meetings will take place, that the employee can pass or fail prior to the end of the probation period, that the probation period can be extended, that probation can be paused in the event of absence, and that the full rigours of the disciplinary procedure do not apply during probation.
Be clear and up front early on about what is expected of the employee in their role by agreeing objectives (ideally SMART). Do not wait to the end of the probation period to discuss any shortcomings. Be fair to the employee by meeting them early to address any suitability or performance concerns, affording them opportunity to improve and following up afterwards giving them clear and balanced feedback. Ensure that they are aware that these meetings are all probation review meetings. Communication early and throughout the probation period is key, not solely at the end of it.
- Follow Fair Process
Ensure that you give the employee very clear feedback on any suitability concerns you have identified, giving them adequate and reasonable time to improve. Provide them with the assurance that you will support during this time however be clear with them that non improvements puts them at risk of their employment being terminated.
- Keep a Record
Simple crafted email communications sent immediately following a meeting can support the employee’s understanding of the issue at hand, thus reducing the chance of matters being different in the employee’s view either now or at a future date, whilst also providing you opportunity to provide clarity of process and document an all-important paper trail of fair process in the event this needs to be demonstrated at a future date.
Sarah Treacy, HR Associate