Career Clinic

Q: I have just failed my probation period. My union says I can appeal, but the HR person where I work says I can’t. Who is right? And why do they say different things?

A: Probation periods are one of the last vestiges of management action unhampered by protracted and often litigious processes. In theory, they shouldn’t be necessary. If a recruitment and selection process is well planned, a candidate’s ability to meet all the skills and attitudinal requirements of a post will have been carefully tested and measured.

In practice, however, the ability to dismiss at the end of a probation period is often used as a safety net when the selection process is lacking.

There is no automatic right of appeal. It is, however, worth checking the paperwork detailing your terms and conditions in case the union knows that someone in HR has really goofed and built an appeal right into the procedure.

The more likely reason for the union having suggested you appeal, though, is if there is a chance the probation period itself was faulty.

The probation period should be something between an extended induction and a mini appraisal. It should be clear what new skills need to be learned, how that learning need is going to be met, and what attitudes need to be displayed. And there should be regular checks that the right amount of progress is being made.

Typically, over a six-month probation period, you would expect reviews at month two, at month four, and the final “sign off” at month six. There should also be a clear paperwork trail noting any concerns as they occur. In other words, there should be no surprises at the end of the six months (or however long the probation period is).

If there is one thing that makes an HR person despair, it is finding out that performance issues have been apparent from day one, but that a manager has failed to put the required management time in and chosen the easy option instead of doing nothing.

If you can show that you were in effect ignored, and that the probation components didn’t actually happen, the union would be correct in suggesting you could apply for an extension so that your probation can be run properly.

I would also suggest you are clear about the reasons for non-confirmation in post. It is important for you to understand whether this is a case of you “not fitting in” with a particular team but would be okay elsewhere, or whether the particular demands of this type of work are not for you.

Alison Sanger is a social care HR consultant

A: The difficulty with fighting this one is that, even if you win, do you really want to carry on working for people you know have tried to get rid of you? The best outcome for you is probably to cut your losses and move on. But if the union can help arrange for you to resign instead of having a failed probation on your record, that is probably worth fighting for.

Name and address withheld

A: It all depends what grounds they have given you for failing your probation period, and whether or not they flagged up these issues earlier on to give you the opportunity to change – and offered you some support to help you do that. If they didn’t, I reckon your union could be right and your HR department could just be trying to cover their employers’ backs!

Name and address withheld

2 August question:
I am a mature student looking to start my career in SW – how much importance should I attach to training and development – and how much more should I expect?

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