Managing probation: Notes of guidance
In this guidance:
New appointments to the University of Exeter are subject to a probationary period of twelve months (except Lecturers (E&R), who are subject to the Professional Development Programme, and Professors, where no period of probation applies).
Staff employed for a fixed term of less than one year should be managed and reviewed in accordance with this guidance, since it is possible that their employment may be extended or they may be successful in applying for another position with the University.
Effective probation is important for both career development and as a means of assessing an individual’s competence to do the job to which they are appointed. The probationary period should be a positive two-way process designed to assist the new employee to integrate into their new role, with emphasis on support and development.
A well-managed period of probation should give the new employee the opportunity to develop, with relevant guidance, the necessary skills to carry out the job effectively and to develop their career. At the same time, it enables the University to assess the contribution of a new member of staff and to ensure that they fulfil the requirements of the post. It can therefore be seen both as a period of training for the individual, with consequential benefits to the College/Service, and as a safeguard for the University.
The first stage in probation begins with induction, which should introduce the new employee to the University, and their College/Service. It is also an opportunity to identify both the learning and development opportunities which are available to staff of the University and the mandatory training which they must complete.
Within three months of the employment commencing, the line manager should meet with the new employee to discuss their role (using the job description and, for academic roles, the appropriate role profile) and set appropriate targets, and to discuss their development needs, focusing on their abilities/strengths and what they think they can bring to the position, as well as any gaps in their competences and how these should be addressed. It may be helpful to use the documentation for the Performance and Development Review (PDR) to structure this discussion.
(The new employee should participate in the Performance and Development Review (PDR) process alongside their probationary reviews.)
After approximately six months, the line manager should meet formally with the employee for an ‘interim review’. The University’s HR system will email an automatic reminder to the nominated line manager in the College/Service approximately five months into the probationary period. The line manager should use the PD73 form as an aide memoir and record of the meeting since it is good practice to make a record of the review. A copy of the PD73 form should be forwarded to the College/Service HR Business Partnering Team.
In good time before the end of the period of probation, the line manager should meet formally with the employee for a final review. The University’s Human Resources system will email an automatic reminder to the nominated line manager in the College/Service approximately eight months into the probationary period.
The line manager should use the form PD74 as an aide memoir and record of the meeting. A copy of the PD74 form should be forwarded to the College/Service HR Business Partnering Team. Any concerns the line manager has about the employee’s performance and/or conduct, should be addressed as soon as possible following the guidance below.
This review is an opportunity to look back at the interim review and decide if the probation is going to be confirmed or the contract terminated. Line managers need to manage probation terminations carefully and seek advice from Human Resources. Employees have rights to claim unfair dismissal, breach of contract, and discrimination in an employment tribunal and so it is crucial that timescales are adhered to and notes of meetings are kept. If there are any concerns Human Resources will ask the College/Service for copies of all records of probation reviews, PDRs etc and any other communications regarding the employee’s performance and/or conduct.
Unsatisfactory performance and/or conduct
If the line manager has any concerns about the employee’s performance and/or conduct and progress, they should seek advice from their HR Business Partner at the earliest opportunity. If performance is not satisfactory, timely action should be taken: the line manager should not wait to the interim or final review to raise concerns with Human Resources.
Where performance is unsatisfactory, action along the following lines should be discussed with the HR Business Partner. Action can be taken at any time during the probationary period (generally the earlier issues are addressed the better).
- The employee's attention should be drawn informally, by reasonably senior staff, to the areas in which their performance is deficient and advice should be given on how to improve including the period, where appropriate, within which this improvement has to be affected. A note should be made of the date and circumstances of any such informal talks and guidance, and it should be retained in the employee's personal file in Human Resources.
- It should be ensured that any appropriate training or instruction has been or will be given within the agreed timescale.
- It should be ensured that there is supervision by someone who is competent, experienced and supportive.
If the performance is still below the standards required after a reasonable interval, the following courses of action may be considered:
- extension of probation period;
- non-confirmation of appointment;
- transfer to a more suitable position.
The timing of any action should allow for the University to follow the appropriate procedure for non-confirmation and dismissal within the probationary period and give contractual notice (see the section on non-confirmation and dismissal below) so that (if necessary) the employment is terminated before the employee has completed 2 years’ service (after which they will be able to pursue a complaint of unfair dismissal in an employment tribunal - if the employee commenced their employment with the University of Exeter after 6 April 2012 (including Continuous Service)).
An employee can make a complaint of unfair dismissal with less than a year's service if the reason for dismissal is (inter alia) related to discrimination, whistleblowing, pregnancy, trade union membership, or asserting a statutory employment right.
If the employee commenced their employment with the University of Exeter before 6 April 2012 (including Continuous Service) then if necessary the employment should be terminated before the employee has completed 12 months’ service (after which they will be able to pursue a complaint of unfair dismissal in an employment tribunal).
Extension of probation
Extension of probation should only be considered where there is a realistic probability of the employee meeting the required performance standards in the additional period. The length of the extension should be appropriate to the time required for the individual to develop and demonstrate the necessary skills to undertake the job effectively. The maximum period of extension is three months.
The conditions of employment state that: Any proposal to extend a period of probation will be the subject of discussion with the member of staff. The discussion will include the reasons for the extension, the targets to be met and the time period. The member of staff will be informed of their right to be accompanied to any meetings. The details of the extension, reasons for extension and targets to be met and time period will be put in writing to the member of staff within 14 days of the decision to extend.
(Extension to the period of probation may also be appropriate where there has been a significant period of absence, for example due to sickness, maternity or other family-friendly leave, which has prevented the employee from demonstrating that they have satisfied the required standards for confirmation of appointment within the one year probationary period.)
Non-confirmation and dismissal
The conditions of employment detail the procedure to be followed where the University is considering terminating the employment under the probationary procedure. (Procedure for Non-Confirmation and Dismissal within the Probationary Period.) The College/Service should seek advice from Human Resources on the procedure to be followed and which managers have delegated authority under the procedure. Different procedures apply to:
- Support staff in Grades A – D
- Support staff in Grades E and above, staff in the Research Job Family and staff in the Education and Scholarship Job Family
- Staff in the Education and Research Job Family
The Procedure for Non-Confirmation and Dismissal within the Probationary Period ensures that the University follows standards of good practice so that decisions are fair and evidence-based. An appointment should not be terminated under the probationary procedure without clear evidence of prior conversations/communication with the employee about their performance and/or conduct.
The conditions of employment provide for the following notice periods within the probationary period (other than in cases of summary dismissal):
Support staff in Grades A – D
- during the first month of the probationary period either party should give one week’s notice;
- during the next five months of the probationary period either party should give two weeks’ notice;
- thereafter either party should give one month’s notice.
Support staff in Grades E and above, staff in the Research Job Family and staff in the Education and Scholarship Job Family
- either party should give one month’s notice
Staff in the Education and Research Job Family
- either party should give three months’ notice.
Transfer to another position
Exceptionally, where the employee has demonstrated during their period of probation that they satisfy the performance standards for another position and such a position is vacant, it would be appropriate to discuss with the employee the option of transfer to this position. Where such a transfer is mutually agreeable, any unexpired period of the initial 12 month probation would continue to apply and, if appropriate, an extended period of probation, up to the maximum of three months (see the section on Extension of probation above) may be agreed.
Confirmation of appointment
After the 12 month period of probation has elapsed, Human Resources will write to the employee to confirm their appointment following satisfactory completion of the probationary perioid (a copy of this letter will be sent to the College/Service) unless the College/Service has advised their HR Business Partner, in writing and in good time before the expiry of the period of probation, of any concerns which may lead to their non-confirmation. Colleges and Services are reminded of the guidance above that any concerns about the employee’s performance and/or conduct should be drawn to the attention of their HR Business Partner at the earliest opportunity and in good time before the expiry of the period of probation.
In the absence of any information or communication from the employing College/Service advising of concerns about the employee’s performance, attendance, conduct etc, Human Resources will write to the employee confirming their appointment.
Colleges and Services are reminded of the University’s standards on equality and diversity. All employment-related decisions should be made in accordance with the University’s policies on equality and diversity.
Colleges and Services are also reminded that records held by the College/Service, as well as those held centrally in Human Resources, including emails, notes of meetings and memoranda/letters, will generally be open to the employee to access through data protection and Freedom of Information legislation.