What is the Procedure for Letting People Go During Probation in the UK?


Lewis Moore


min read


31 May 2024

Terminating employment during probation
Terminating employment during probation

You've hired a promising candidate and are several months into their probation period, but things aren't going as planned. Performance issues, misalignment with company culture, or simply unsuitability for the role can arise. Letting someone go during probation is never easy, but understanding the right procedures can help ensure a fair, legal, and compassionate process. This guide will walk you through when and how you can terminate employment during probation in the UK, focusing on clear steps and actions for a smooth transition.

1. When Can You Terminate Employment During Probation?

1.1 Understanding Probationary Periods

Probationary periods give employers a window to evaluate new employees’ suitability for a role. Typically lasting between three to six months, this period allows you to assess performance, attendance, and overall fit within the company culture. It’s crucial to outline the probation terms clearly in the employment contract, detailing expectations and the criteria for a successful review.

Key components to include in probation terms:

  • Duration: Clearly state the probation period length.

  • Performance Metrics: Define measurable performance indicators.

  • Review Schedule: Set specific timelines for performance reviews and feedback sessions.

Probationary periods are beneficial for both parties. They provide employees with a chance to adapt to their new role and understand company expectations. Meanwhile, you get valuable time to determine if their abilities match your needs. Ensure there's regular communication during this period to address any issues promptly.

Pro-tip: Regular Feedback: Regularly scheduled feedback can identify issues early, allowing employees to improve before probation ends.

1.2 Legal Grounds for Termination During Probation

Terminating employment during the probationary period must be handled carefully to avoid legal repercussions. While probationary employees have fewer rights compared to those who have completed their probation, unfair dismissal claims can still arise if the process is not conducted correctly. Understand the legal grounds for termination and ensure you have legitimate reasons for your decision.

Here are the primary considerations for legal termination:

  • Performance Issues: Documented evidence of poor performance or failure to meet the outlined probation criteria.

  • Misconduct: Acts of gross misconduct, such as theft or harassment, provide immediate grounds for termination.

  • Capability Gaps: Significant skill or qualification gaps that were not evident during the hiring process but have become apparent during probation.

Even during probation, employees are protected against discriminatory practices and unfair treatment. Ensure your reasons for termination are non-discriminatory and well-documented. When done correctly, probation provides a fair trial period, allowing both parties to assess long-term compatibility.

Pro-tip: Clear Documentation: Keep detailed records of performance reviews, feedback sessions, and any issues that arise. This documentation is vital if the termination decision is challenged.

These fundamental guidelines ensure that letting someone go during probation is conducted fairly and legally, protecting both your company and the employee involved.

2. How to Conduct a Fair Dismissal Process?

2.1 Communicating Issues During Probation

Effective communication during the probation period is paramount. As an employer, you need to be clear and transparent about any performance-related issues. Arrange regular check-ins to discuss the employee's progress and areas where improvement is required. Make sure these meetings are not just a formality but an open dialogue where employees feel comfortable to express their concerns as well. Clear communication early on can often rectify misunderstandings and set the stage for improvements, thereby potentially avoiding the need for termination.

Use direct language and provide specific examples of what is expected versus what is being observed. This makes it easier for the employee to understand the gap they need to bridge. For instance, avoid vague statements like "your performance needs to improve" and instead say, "you need to achieve a weekly sales target of £500." This strategy aligns expectations and provides measurable goals for the employee to aim for.

Pro-tip: Regularly scheduled feedback sessions help employees stay aligned with company expectations.

2.2 Documenting Performance and Conduct

Documenting performance and conduct is essential in handling the dismissal process fairly. You should maintain detailed records of all meetings, verbal warnings, and written communications about the employee's performance. Each record should include dates, times, specific issues discussed, and any plans for improvement. This documentation serves as evidence that you made diligent efforts to support the employee's success.

Create a performance review template that you and the employee sign during each session. This formal approach ensures that the documentation is consistent and comprehensive, providing a clear timeline of interactions and corrective steps taken. This documentation will prove invaluable should there be any legal scrutiny regarding the termination, demonstrating that you adhered to fair employment practices.

Pro-tip: Use performance management tools to automate and standardise your documentation process for consistency and accuracy.

2.3 Holding a Formal Meeting

When it becomes necessary to terminate an employee during their probation, hold a formal meeting to discuss this decision. Invite the employee to a private setting, making sure that the conversation remains confidential and respectful. Begin by summarising the issues discussed in previous feedback sessions and any improvements that were or were not made. This sets the stage for the final decision and shows that the dismissal is not abrupt or unjustified.

During the meeting, outline clearly the reasons for termination, supported by documented evidence. It's important to allow the employee the opportunity to ask questions and to understand the rationale behind the decision. Provide them with information regarding their notice period, severance pay (if applicable), and steps they need to take as their employment concludes. Handling the meeting with empathy and professionalism can make the difficult process a little easier for both parties.

Where possible, ensure the meeting is carried out by a direct line manager rather than an HR representative. It will feel unfair if their employment is terminated by someone who they are not familiar with. Also the direct manager will be best placed to answer the employees questions and concerns.

Pro-tip: Prepare a checklist of talking points and required documents to ensure the termination meeting covers all necessary information points smoothly.

3. What are the Rights of Employees on Probation?

3.1 Notice Period for Termination

In the UK, employees on probation are entitled to a notice period before termination. Statutory notice period requirements mandate at least one week's notice if the employee has been employed for more than one month but less than two years. This ensures that even probationary employees receive some protection and are not dismissed abruptly.

However, employment contracts might stipulate longer notice periods, and the employer should observe whichever duration is longer. It’s crucial to review your contractual terms in this regard. If no notice period is specified in the contract, the statutory minimum notice applies. Ensure that terminations are handled within these legal frameworks to avoid potential disputes or breaches of contract.

Pro-tip: Always cross-check the notice period stated in the employee's contract against the statutory requirement. This ensures you're compliant and mitigates the risk of legal repercussions.

3.2 Severance Pay and Benefits

Employees on probation usually do not have the same entitlements to severance pay as those who’ve passed their probation or have longer service durations. In the UK, there is no legal requirement for severance pay during the probationary period. However, some companies might offer ex-gratia payments or benefits as part of their employment policies.

Regarding benefits, probationary employees may have limited access to certain perks. They might not be eligible for company benefits such as bonuses, enhanced sick pay, or other incentives provided to permanent staff. Always clearly outline what benefits probationary employees are entitled to within their employment contracts to prevent misunderstandings.

Pro-tip: Clarify the benefits for probationary employees during induction. This helps manage expectations and reduces disputes over entitlements if termination occurs.

4. How to Use Evidenced in the Dismissal Process?

4.1 Structuring Exit Interviews with Evidenced

Exit interviews are crucial for understanding the reasons behind an employee’s departure, particularly during a probationary period. To make the most out of these interviews, you should structure them effectively. Begin by preparing a list of standard questions that target key aspects of the employee's experience, performance, and reasons for leaving. This helps in maintaining a consistent format and ensures you cover all necessary points. Evidenced’s structured interview builder can be an excellent tool here, allowing you to design and standardise your exit interview questions and procedures, ensuring that no critical topic is missed.

During the exit interview, ensure you focus more on the employee's experience rather than note-taking. Evidenced facilitates this by providing live transcription and video recording features, meaning you can review and analyse interviews at your convenience. Bookmarking key moments during the interview can also simplify the process of summarising and identifying critical feedback points. By leveraging Evidenced’s tools, you can make the exit interview less about scribbling notes and more about engaging in a meaningful conversation that provides genuine insights.

Pro-Tip: Utilise Automatic Question Detection to ensure that every critical question is covered without the need to manually jot down each response, allowing for a smoother and more insightful interview process.

4.2 Recording Meetings for Transparency

Transparency is important in any dismissal process, especially during probation. Recording meetings ensures that all discussions are documented accurately, reducing any potential disputes about what was said or agreed upon. With Evidenced’s HD video recording and live transcription features, you can maintain a clear and accurate record of all meetings. This serves not only as a reference point for the current dismissal but also as evidence should any future disputes arise.

Recording meetings also aids in maintaining fair and unbiased communication. In addition to recording, Evidenced allows you to have structured meetings. You can set up meetings with predefined agendas, questions, and discussion points. This ensures that every meeting stays focused and covers all necessary aspects of the probationary review. The shareable interview recaps feature from Evidenced allows you to easily review and share essential parts of the meeting with relevant stakeholders, ensuring everyone is on the same page.

Pro-Tip: Use Evidenced’s scorecard feature to document and evaluate the employee’s performance, capturing specific criteria that can support your final decision transparently and objectively.

4.3 Continuing to Monitor Your Process

After the termination, it's important to review and refine your process to ensure fairness and efficiency in the future. Document each step taken and any feedback received during the termination. This information is invaluable for HR in identifying any potential patterns or gaps in performance management. Regularly update your policies to reflect any legal changes or internal improvements needed.

Conduct periodic training for managers on effective communication and legal compliances related to probationary terminations. They should be well-versed in conducting these difficult conversations with empathy and efficiency. Additionally, using tools like Evidenced can streamline the interview process and ensure consistency in assessing candidates, reducing the likelihood of future terminations during probation. Evidenced offers features like structured interview templates and video recording with live transcription, making it easier to maintain transparency and fairness.

Pro-tip: Conduct exit interviews using tools that provide clear documentation. This can help improve your process and identify any recurring issues.

In summary, while terminating an employee during their probationary period is never an easy task, following best practices can support both the departing employee and the organisation. By prioritising clarity, compassion, and continuous improvement, businesses can navigate this challenging process more effectively.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to terminate an employee during probation period in the UK?

To terminate an employee during their probation period in the UK, ensure you follow a fair process:

  • Provide a clear reason for termination.

  • Document performance issues.

  • Hold a formal meeting with the employee.

  • Give the appropriate notice period.

  • Record the termination details.

How to let someone go during probationary period?

To let someone go during their probationary period, follow these steps:

  • Schedule a formal meeting.

  • Discuss specific performance or conduct issues.

  • Provide constructive feedback.

  • Ensure they understand the reason for termination.

  • Follow your company's legal requirements and notice period.

What are the rules for probation period in the UK?

The rules for probation periods in the UK include:

  • A set duration usually between 3 to 6 months.

  • Performance monitoring and feedback sessions.

  • Legal compliance for notice periods.

  • Clear communication of expectations.

  • The ability to terminate employment more readily than after the probation period ends.