If concerns about work or conduct arise at any stage in the probationary period they should be brought to the attention of the employee as soon as possible and should not be left until the formal mid-probation or final probation review meeting. Whenever possible, they should be resolved with the employee through discussion. Advice on dealing with probationary issues should always be sought from the relevant HR Business Partner at an early stage.
Guidance on initial discussion about concerns regarding work or conduct during probation
Often an improvement in conduct or performance can be achieved by simply clarifying what standard of conduct/performance is required, why it is important and by explaining the possible consequences of not meeting the standard, for example, the need for more formal action. This process ensures that the employee clearly understands what is expected of them in order to achieve a satisfactory improvement and ultimately to pass the probation period successfully.
Prior to any discussion taking place, any relevant feedback and examples should be gathered.
The objectives of the discussion are as follows.
- Remind the employee of the expected standards of work and/or conduct based on their job description and objectives set to date.
- Explain the areas of concern and why they are of concern. Outline to the employee the consequences (for the work of the team or section, for colleagues, for themselves) of the problem. For example if an employee regularly arrives very late they may miss important information for their work given at morning briefings, other colleagues may have to cover for them and so be prevented from doing their own work etc.
- Explore the employee's explanation and view(s) on the concern(s), to establish why there has been a shortfall in conduct or performance.
- Establish whether further support, development or training is required.
- Review current objectives and explain clearly what expected in future in order for the employee to reach an acceptable standard of work or conduct.
- Set new objectives, with a timescale for the next review. These should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-related) for example, by the date of the next review be arriving on time on 90% of working days like other colleagues.
- Clarify that if there is not an improvement to a satisfactory standard (or if further issues arise) it may be necessary to consider matters more formally.
It is important that the manager makes and keeps a note of the meeting and writes to the employee afterwards to confirm the main points of discussion and the agreed actions and objectives. A template letter (PRO6) is available on the right hand side of the page. Sample templates in different formats for recording agreed actions (PRO3 and PRO4) are also available on the right hand side of the page.
If discussion does not resolve the matter
If discussion does not resolve matters or is not appropriate (for example, in the event of serious shortcomings), the University procedures for dealing with work or conduct issues should be followed. In summary, these involve:
- a formal meeting, at which the probationer may be accompanied, to discuss the problem (a template invitation letter PRO7 is available on the right hand side of the page);
- where appropriate, a formal warning with a timed improvement plan (a template letter PRO8 is available on the right hand side of the page, as are sample templates for recording agreed actions (PRO3 and PRO4);
- a further review meeting at which the probationer may be accompanied;
- dismissal with appropriate notice if progress has not been satisfactory.
The details of the procedures varies according to staff group and are set out here: (i) academic-related staff on probation, and (ii) all university support staff on probation. Seek advice from the relevant HR Business Partner before taking any action under these procedures.
Extension of probationary period
The probationary period should be extended in cases where problems have been identified during the probation period, which the line manager anticipates can be resolved with additional time, support and/or training, allowing the employee to then reach a satisfactory level of performance. This extension might be put in place after the final review meeting or at an earlier stage, when it becomes apparent that an extension is needed.
The manager should meet with the employee to discuss the problems that have been identified before deciding to extend the probation. An action plan (sample templates PRO3 and PRO4 are available on the right hand side of the page) should be agreed with the employee, and further advice should be sought from the appropriate HR Business Partner.
The employee should be informed in writing of the extension of the probationary period, which should not come as a surprise, as concerns should have been raised before the process to extend the probationary period takes place.
Extending the probationary period due to absence
Where the postholder has not been able to attend work for the full length of the stated probationary period (for example, through sickness absence), or is absent at the anticipated final probationary review, the department may decide to extend the probationary period to allow for this.
In such cases the probationer may be unable to attend an interview and will be informed of the extension of their probationary period in writing, normally before the date on which their probation would otherwise have been due to expire. The reason(s) for the extension should be clearly explained in a letter, including specific targets given to the employee to be achieved by the new probation end date.
Dismissal during probation
In all cases where dismissal before the end of the probationary period is considered, advice should be sought from the HR Business Partner.
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