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Non-academic staff probation procedure: guidance for line managers

1.0 INTRODUCTION

The probation procedure is designed to ensure that newly appointed staff receive support to understand and carry out their role and responsibilities.

This guidance covers all Professional and Support (P&S), Teaching and Scholarship (T&S) and Research Only (RO) staff. Any guidance that relates specifically to just one of these staff groups will be set out under a separate heading within the relevant section.

It is a key responsibility of all line managers to ensure staff understand their objectives and meet the expectations required of them. Line managers should take responsibility for ensuring the probationer’s performance is assessed and reviewed to determine their suitability for their role. This should include ensuring that objectives are set and clearly understood, and that there is clarity in regard to the expected standards of performance, assessment measures and development needs.

PROFESSIONAL AND SUPPORT STAFF

Probation is mandatory for all P&S Staff. The College recognises that they play a key role in the delivery of College business across a wide spectrum of activities.

RESEARCH ONLY STAFF

Probation is mandatory for all RO Staff. The College recognises the vital contribution of the research workforce to the continuing success of Birkbeck as a world-class research-intensive teaching institution. To this end, the College is also committed to supporting staff under the core principles of the 'Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers', all of which have a direct link to how staff are managed during probation (and beyond):

  • Principle 1: Excellent research requires a supportive and inclusive research culture.
  • Principle 2: Researchers are recruited, employed and managed under conditions that recognise and value their contributions.
  • Principle 3: Professional and career development are integral to enabling researchers to develop their full potential.

TEACHING AND SCHOLARSHIP STAFF

T&S staff make a vital contribution to the success of the College and are a key front-line role with direct student contact. As such, the College recognises the importance of ensuring T&S staff are fully inducted into the business of their School and the wider College community. The College strongly recommends that all steps in the Probation Procedure are followed to help manage the initial engagement of T&S staff and their longer-term learning and development. However, the College also recognises that line managers may require flexibility when assessing the probationary needs of those T&S staff who are engaged on short appointments or scheduled to undertake very few teaching hours.

Although line management of T&S staff is often split between the ASM and academic supervisor, the ASM is responsible for ensuring that the appropriate induction and probation takes place. Aspects of this may be delegated to a member of the academic or teaching staff who provides guidance, direction and leadership on matters regarding curriculum, teaching and learning.

All T&S staff are involved in teaching, but the model in which they undertake this work varies across the College: some T&S staff will work closely with an individual academic member of staff whilst some work as part of a large team of T&S staff. As a result, the core induction and probation process for a particular member of T&S staff may need to be adapted locally to reflect the most appropriate model for their work pattern.

2.0 INDUCTION

The line manager should arrange for the probationer to receive local and College level induction, where appropriate utilising the induction checklist. At a local level the probationer should receive and/or be directed to relevant information that will enable them to undertake their duties. The probationer should also be made aware of the relevant employment policies, codes, procedures, and other pertinent documents.

During the induction process consideration should be given to providing the probationer with the option of being matched with a peer mentor, where appropriate, to provide guidance and support during the probation period (see paragraph 3.4).

Depending on the nature of the contract, the line manager should consider assessing the need for training with the probationer. All probationers must complete any mandatory training before they can complete their probation. Line managers should encourage them to complete the training as part of their induction.

RESEARCH ONLY STAFF

The line manager should arrange for a member of the Department to communicate the scope of the probationer’s research project, their role within this and how the wider School and College operates.

The induction period also involves assessing the strengths and areas for development of the new researcher and planning objectives in terms of performance against the grant/project criteria. Learning objectives should also be developed and management support agreed in terms of supervision meetings, coaching and mentoring. Birkbeck is committed to supporting the career development of researchers and a discussion about this should take place when objectives are set for the longer term. If the researcher is supervising students or other staff, there are courses that the College offers for first line supervision and additional guidance on staff management is available from HR.

The Health and Safety team will contact all new staff to inform them about the College’s safe working requirements but arrangements should also be made for a local health and safety induction which could include an induction to relevant laboratory work.

TEACHING AND SCHOLARSHIP STAFF

More specific information on induction for T&S staff can be found in the College Guide for Teaching and Scholarship Staff.

3.0 OBJECTIVE SETTING/ROLE EXPECTATIONS/MONITORING PROGRESS/ROLE OF PEER MENTOR

3.1 OBJECTIVE SETTING

Work objectives should be defined and discussed with the probationer. Objectives should be realistic, measurable, and achievable (based on the requirements listed in the job description) and should support the School or Department’s business plan. Generally no more than six objectives should be set within a specified timeframe which may be periodically reviewed and updated, where required.

Research Only Staff

The objectives for newly appointed researchers will normally be guided by the objectives of the research grant or project for which they have been recruited.

Teaching and Scholarship Staff

Specific objectives for T&S staff will be teaching focused and course related as outlined in the employee’s job description. Such objectives will also be driven by portfolio review and programme updates and specific School/Department goals as appropriate.

3.2 ROLE EXPECTATIONS

At the start of probation, it is advised that line managers provide an outline of the role requirements, identify the main focus of the work and state how the role fits into other parts of the team, department, School, and wider College process. In addition to this the line manager should also outline what the probationer can expect from them in their capacity as a line manager.

3.3 MONITORING PROGRESS

The monitoring process should consist of assessing how performance targets and objectives are being met and how specific job-related outputs are being delivered.

Research Only Staff

The line manager should ensure the probationer retains evidence of their development and performance, which may include:

  • recording published publications/papers, reports or other written materials
  • evidence of training or courses undertaken
  • completion of degree courses or other equivalent qualifications taken within the probation period
  • evidence of progress made on a qualitative or quantitative level.

Teaching and Scholarship Staff

ASMs should have a review meeting within the first four weeks of the teaching process to see if additional support is required.

More specific information on monitoring progress during probation for T&S staff can be found in the College Guide for Teaching and Scholarship Staff.

3.4 ROLE OF PEER MENTOR

The role of the peer mentor is an informal one and may not be practical or necessary in every instance. Peer mentors should be experienced members of staff who are familiar with the job requirements and responsibilities of the role. The peer mentor should provide encouragement to the probationer; share experiences and provide information and advice where appropriate and refer the probationer to other sources of help where necessary. They will not play any part in the probationer’s management. Peer mentors, where they are allocated, are expected to introduce themselves to their mentees either face-to-face or via email shortly after the mentee’s arrival and offer their support. After this initial contact it will be the mentee’s prerogative to get in further contact if they feel in need of support.

4.0 REVIEW PROCESSES

4.1 INFORMAL PROGRESS REVIEWS

Line managers are advised to arrange informal as well as formal reviews with probationers to discuss progress, training and development needs. These discussions should also address areas where improvements are needed if these have been identified. A short follow-up email should be sent where conversations are face-to-face so that both parties are clear on action and timescales.

4.2 FORMAL MID-TERM REVIEW

Line managers should schedule when a new employee’s mid-term review is due. The review should be completed using the Mid-term review section of the Probation form (Word) (Birkbeck staff only). Line managers should seek the support of their HR Business Partner in advance of the meeting in cases where the probationer’s performance or capability is of concern, or if they need advice on how to manage discussions of this nature. At the end of the meeting the line manager should indicate:

  • whether the probationer’s performance and capability meet the expected standards
  • whether improvements are needed and if so in which specific areas
  • that if the probationer fails to improve their performance or capability then this could lead to the extension of their probation period and/or non-confirmation in post.

The line manager must complete the Mid-term review section of the Probation form (Word) (Birkbeck staff only), which both they and the probationer sign, and give a copy to the probationer and to the HR Business Partner.

Teaching and Scholarship Staff

More specific information on the mid-term review for T&S staff can be found in the College Guide for Teaching and Scholarship Staff.

4.3 FINAL REVIEW

Line managers should schedule the Final Review meeting for approximately one month before the probation period is due to end. The review should be completed using the Final review section of the Probation form (Word) (Birkbeck staff only). At the meeting the line manager should confirm to the probationer that either:

  • their probation is confirmed; or
  • their probation is to be extended; or
  • their appointment will not be confirmed and the line manager will be recommending that they are dismissed from employment.

The line manager must complete the Final review section of the Probation form (Word) (Birkbeck staff only), which both they and the probationer sign, and give a copy to the probationer and to the HR Business Partner.

Teaching and Scholarship Staff

More specific information on the Final Review for T&S staff can be found in the College Guide for Teaching and Scholarship Staff.

Note that, at 15 months into the probation (prior to the final review at 18 months), it is recommended that the Department should schedule for an appropriate member of the academic staff (ideally an experienced member of the teaching staff) to undertake a further peer review/class visit to review the probationer’s classroom performance and moderate further samples of their work to consider what additional support or training needs (if any) would benefit the probationer.

5.0 EXTENSION OF THE PROBATION PERIOD

Where the line manager considers it necessary to extend the probation period, they should contact their HR Business Partner for advice on the procedure before scheduling the Final Review meeting with the probationer. Possible reasons for an extension could include:

  • There are one or more key requirements of the role which have not yet been met, although the expectation is that they could be met with additional management support or training, or additional effort by the probationer, during the extension period.
  • The probationer may have spent a period on leave e.g. sickness or maternity which has prevented them from fully completing the requirements of the role.
  • Where there is a justifiable reason for the probationer being unable to fully complete the objectives/expectations of the role within the probation period (e.g. changes in priorities or strategic business need).
  • One or more support and/or training interventions have not yet been completed and the extension will allow the probationer to achieve the necessary skills or learning.

Line managers should explain to the probationer the need to extend the probation, the course of action required, any training/additional help needed and the period in which the improvement is expected to take place. The probationer should be notified in writing that if they do not meet the requirements of the role within the extension period their contract of employment may be terminated.

6.0 TERMINATION OF CONTRACT

Where the line manager recommends that the probationer’s contract should be terminated, they should discuss the issue with their HR Business Partner and the Director of Professional Services Department/Director of Operations/Principal Investigator/Assistant School Manager (as appropriate to the staff group). The relevant senior manager will then convene and chair a formal meeting with the probationer, the line manager and an HR representative. The senior manager should notify the probationer of the date of the meeting, in writing, at least 5 working days in advance. The notification must also inform the probationer that they have the right to be accompanied to the meeting by a trade union representative or work colleague. The line manager should always take advice in such cases from their HR Business Partner.

At the meeting the line manager will outline reasons for their recommendation and the probationer will be given the opportunity to respond.

The Director of Professional Services Department/Director of Operations/Principal Investigator/Assistant School Manager may then decide that a further extension of the probation period will enable the probationer to meet the expected standards, and if so, a formal plan should be developed.

Where the Director of Professional Services Department/Director of Operations/Principal Investigator/Assistant School Manager decides that a further extension will not enable the probationer to meet the required standards then the probationer will be informed that their contract will be terminated. The Director of Professional Services Department/Director of Operations/Principal Investigator/Assistant School Manager will then give the probationer 4 weeks’ notice of the termination of their employment, for which they will be paid in lieu of notice. The probationer must also be advised of their right of appeal against this decision (see Section 9 below).

7.0 PROBATIONER CHANGES ROLE DURING THE PROBATION PERIOD

If a probationer has not completed their probation and transfers to another role during this time, the probation period will continue for the remaining period until the end of the probation is achieved. At this time the individual’s appointment should be confirmed, or not confirmed, or their probation should be extended, according to their performance and capability in the role. No probation review meeting should be postponed because a member of staff is subsequently transferring to another role within the College.

8.0 APPOINTMENTS SHORTER THAN THE NORMAL DURATION OF THE PROBATION PERIOD

Where staff are appointed on contracts of a shorter duration than the normal probation period for their role, the whole of their appointment should normally be considered probationary. If their appointment period is subsequently extended, the probation period should continue in the new appointment, up to the normal duration of probation.

9.0 APPEALS

9.1 APPEAL PROCEDURE

The probationer has a right of appeal against dismissal and should be advised that if they wish to do so they are required to submit their appeal in writing, stating the grounds, to the Deputy Director of HR, within 5 working days of receipt of written confirmation of termination. Appeals will normally only be considered on one or more of the following grounds, where the employee believes:

  • the sanction to be unfair or unreasonably severe; or
  • substantial new and relevant information related to the case is available; or
  • there is evidence indicating the procedure was not properly applied.

9.2 APPEAL HEARING

The Deputy Director of HR will appoint an appeal panel chaired by a member of the College who is senior to the Director of Professional Services Department/Director of Operations/Principal Investigator/Assistant School Manager (as appropriate to the staff group), or their nominee. A representative of HR will also be present. The panel may decide to:

  • overturn the original non-confirmation decision; or
  • extend the probation period; or
  • confirm the decision to terminate employment.

The hearing should not attempt to re-evaluate the original evidence but rather ensure that the procedure was followed correctly and that the judgement to dismiss was fair and appropriate.

The Chair of the panel will arrange an appeal hearing for as soon as possible and will provide written notification of the hearing to the probationer and manager who initiated the dismissal. The notification will include:

  • details of the Chair of the appeal panel and the HR representative
  • the date and time of the appeal hearing
  • the right of the probationer to be represented by a trade union representative or a work colleague of their own choice
  • copies of any supporting documentation which may have affected the original judgement.

The decision of the appeal panel will be final and will be confirmed in writing to the probationer as soon as possible, and normally within 5 working days of the hearing.