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Probation procedure for non-academic staff

Birkbeck is committed to supporting and guiding new members of staff to develop the necessary skills, competencies and performance standards required to successfully fulfil the requirements of the job. The probation period will also allow the College to fulfil its obligations to the member of staff (herein referred to as the 'probationer') to provide appropriate and effective supervision and support during the probation period.

SCOPE

This probation procedure applies to all staff in the Professional and Support, Research-only and Teaching and Scholarship staff categories. Whilst the College recognises the importance of managing probation, it also recognises that these procedures require flexibility according to local business needs and the nature of an individual's appointment to Birkbeck. For example, the College recognises the need for a flexible approach to managing probation for Research Only staff appointed on contracts of very short duration, or for Teaching and Scholarship staff engaged to deliver a very low number of teaching hours, or on ad hoc or infrequent modules.

There is a separate probation procedure for academic staff.

INTRODUCTION

Probation is defined as 'the action or process of testing or putting to the proof'. For probationers, it provides an opportunity to demonstrate that they are able to fulfil the responsibilities of the role to which they have been appointed to a satisfactory standard.

Birkbeck as an employer recognises it has a responsibility to provide relevant induction, training and support to the probationer over the probation period to enable them to demonstrate satisfactorily the skills and competencies necessary for the role.

The probation period is a time of adjustment and learning. Employees who are new to an organisation need time to accustom themselves to the working practices and possibly to adjust to new and more demanding work patterns. Probationers should be given clear instruction and guidance about the job at regular intervals and line managers should provide encouragement and ensure any immediate development needs are addressed.

LENGTH OF PROBATION PERIOD

The length of the probation period will be outlined in the individual's contract of employment.

The probation period for an individual within each staff group will normally be the same:

  • Professional and Support - normally six months
  • Research-only - normally 12 months
  • Teaching and Scholarship - normally 18 months.

The probation period can be varied in cases where explicit, objective reasons for a variation are provided. Such an exception may include the waiving or lessening of a probation period by the recruiting manager at the recruitment stage, but must always be approved by the relevant Executive Dean or Director of Professional Services Department. For example, probation might be reduced where the individual has significant experience at the same level at another institution and is a 'good fit' for Birkbeck on the basis that he or she has a firm understanding of the College's culture and considerable knowledge of the higher education sector. Exceptions are expected to be rare and will be noted by HR on an exceptions list where they occur.

Where staff are appointed on a fixed-term contract of less than the normal probation periods stated above, then all of their appointment shall be considered to be probationary. The probation period is not reduced. If the fixed-term contract is subsequently extended or made permanent then the individual's probation period should continue in the new contract until the sum of both periods reaches the normal duration of the probation period, at which point the probation should be confirmed or not confirmed according to the terms of this procedure.

PROCEDURE

THE PROBATION PROCESS

During the probation period the notice period will be four weeks at any time, by either party.

At the time of appointment the probationer will be directed to a copy of this procedure within their contract of employment.

INDUCTION

During the probationer's initial induction period in the role, the line manager should make the probationer aware of the requirements of the role including expectations of performance standards and behaviours. This may include (as judged appropriate according to local business needs) details on the quality standards required; the skills that may need to be acquired; any training (including mandatory training), and how this can be accessed; any College protocols, policies and procedures, and where details on these can be accessed; any deadlines which need to be met; any working relationships which need to be developed; and any other details relevant to the successful performance of the role.

The line manager should also make clear that these standards will be monitored throughout the probation period and the frequency by which they can be formally reviewed.

The probationer should be briefed on how their role operates in relation to their colleagues and within the context of the department's or unit's work and Birkbeck as a whole.

Where appropriate, the probationer may be given the option of being matched with a peer mentor on an informal basis (where possible, this will be an experienced member of staff familiar with their role) who they can look to for general support and encouragement throughout the probation period.

The College will fulfil its legal duties (under the Equality Act 2010), so that adjustments, where reasonably practicable, are made to ensure that individuals with a disability are not disadvantaged. Where reasonable adjustments have been identified as part of the induction process, the line manager should discuss the implementation of these with the probationer.

Line managers should make themselves available to probationers at mutually convenient times, via their usual means of communication, to discuss any points concerning the post which may need clarification.

It is not always possible or appropriate to provide detailed procedures for more senior members of staff. Such probationers should be made aware of the standard to which they are expected to perform and be given guidance to help them reach and/or maintain such standards.

MONITORING PROGRESS

The following points can be used, where appropriate, to monitor the probationer's progress (see section 5 - Responsibilities under Human Resources for additional guidance on monitoring progress):

a. Work output - Is the probationer making steady progress in the amount of work which is being done?
b. Work quality and standard - Is the probationer beginning to produce work which is relatively error-free? Is there evidence of their acquired learning and a reduction in the amount of supervision they require? Are they performing at the level which is expected of them?
c. Attendance - What is the probationer's record for punctuality, attendance and sickness absence?
d. Collect feedback to provide a wider assessment - Do colleagues (and students where the role is student-facing) feel that a good working relationship has been established?
e. Has the probationer's conduct been satisfactory?

Line managers are advised to provide feedback and any actions (in writing), to the probationer. If there are aspects of performance identified as needing improvement these should be discussed with the probationer as soon as possible, rather than waiting until the formal probation meeting, and advice and assistance given as to how to rectify them. Line managers may liaise with their HR Partner, as appropriate, on this.

The College reserves the right to terminate employment during the probation period at any time. If there are serious concerns that arise prior to the Mid-term Review or Final Review, line managers should contact their Director of Professional Services department/Director of Operations/Principal Investigator/Assistant School Manager (as appropriate to the staff group) and HR at the earliest opportunity so that appropriate support can be given.

MID-TERM REVIEW

At the mid-point of the probation period the line manager should complete a more formal review of the probationer's progress. This review is mandatory for Professional and Support staff and Research-only staff and is strongly recommended for all Teaching and Scholarship staff (recognising the need for flexibility in managing the latter group). This review is particularly important in cases where the line manager considers the probationer to be falling below the required standard of performance and needs additional support. At this juncture the line manager must complete the Mid-term review section of the Probation form (Word) (Birkbeck staff only), and give a copy to the probationer.

If this review indicates that progress has not been entirely satisfactory, the line manager should discuss with the probationer the aspects of performance which need improvement and seek to agree clear objectives and timescales within which they can be reviewed. The probationer will be asked if they consider that any further support and/or training is necessary to enable them to complete tasks to the standards expected of them and this will be discussed and arranged where appropriate.

If there are serious concerns about the probationer's performance or conduct, the line manager should make it clear to the probationer that failure to improve performance/conduct to the required standard may result in the extension of the probation period and/or non-confirmation in post and the termination of their employment. It is advised that timescales for improvement and the possibility of extending the probation period are discussed with the probationer and confirmed in writing. In the case of T&S staff concerns/issues should be raised by the line manager, who can seek advice from their HR Business Partnering Team.

The Mid-term Review is an opportunity to remind the probationer to complete the mandatory training, if they have not already done so.

Line managers should consider scheduling follow up feedback within an appropriate timeframe. A brief record should be kept of improvements made or of difficulties in achieving set goals. The probationer should be made aware that such a record is being kept.

FINAL REVIEW

Approximately one month before the end of the probation period the line manager will hold a Final Review meeting with the probationer. The probationer does not automatically pass probation at the end of the probation period. They may only pass probation once the Final Review meeting has taken place. After the meeting the line manager must submit the Final review section of the Probation form (Word) (Birkbeck staff only) to the appropriate HR Business Partner. This report will include written notification to HR that:

  • the probationer should be confirmed in post; or
  • the line manager will be extending the probation period; or
  • the line manager will be recommending termination of the probationer's contract.

CONFIRMATION OF APPOINTMENT

Where a probationer is judged to have successfully completed the probation period, their line manager will indicate such on the Final Review Form, which will be completed during the Final Review meeting. The line manager will provide feedback to the probationer at the Final Review meeting, making it clear that they have successfully completed their probation period. The line manager will then provide the probationer with a copy of their Final Review Form, and also email a copy to . HR will then send a confirmation letter to the probationer. The line manager will proceed to setting and agreeing objectives with the member of staff for the year ahead.

EXTENSION OF PROBATION PERIOD

It may be appropriate to extend the period of probation if, due to particular absence periods e.g. maternity, paternity, sickness, it has not been possible to fairly assess performance; training to support the individual has not been available; or the probationer's performance has not met the required standard but the line manager has evidence to suggest that performance is likely to improve with a further period of probation.

In all cases where probation is extended, the following areas should be discussed between the line manager and the probationer and relevant information confirmed in writing:

  • the reasons for the extension
  • the period of the extension, the performance standards expected and the way in which performance will be monitored
  • any support/training that will be given in the extension period
  • that if there is no sustained improvement in performance and/or conduct to the standard required, that the probationer's employment may be terminated.

NON-CONFIRMATION OF APPOINTMENT: TERMINATION OF CONTRACT

Where the line manager determines that an extension and/or continuation of the probation period is deemed unlikely to result in a sufficient improvement in performance and/or conduct and there is likelihood therefore that the appointment will be terminated at this juncture, they should discuss with the probationer at the Mid-term Review and/or Final Review meeting. If they remain of the view that the contract should be terminated, they should discuss 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. A person designated as minute taker will also be present.

The probationer will be given at least five days' notice of the meeting and will be provided with a copy of the relevant documentation in advance. The probationer will also be notified that they have the right to be accompanied at the meeting by a Birkbeck trade union representative or a Birkbeck work colleague. Companions may assist staff in stating the probationer's case but may not answer instead of the probationer.

Any decision as a result of such a meeting should be confirmed in writing to the individual (in consultation with HR).

Probationers who do not meet the required standard during the probation period will be given four weeks' notice of the termination of contract by the Director of Professional Services department/Director of Operations/Principal Investigator/Assistant School Manager (as appropriate to the staff group). Normally, the notice period will be paid in lieu of notice.

APPEALS

Probationers will have the right to appeal against a decision to terminate their employment, in accordance with this procedure.

Any appeal must clearly set out the grounds on which the probationer is appealing and must be lodged in writing with the Deputy Director of HR within five working days of receipt of written confirmation of termination. In exceptional circumstances a short extension may be granted. Individuals should seek further advice from HR. Appeals will be heard without unreasonable delay at a meeting of an appeal panel.

The Chair of the appeal meeting will be accompanied by a representative from the HR department. A person designated as minute taker will also be present.

Where possible the appeal will be 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, and in all cases will be an impartial party who has not previously been involved in the case. The HR representative will also be a different person from the person who participated in the previous meeting.

The appeal panel can uphold or reject the appeal. Probationers have a right to be accompanied at any such appeal meeting by a work colleague or trade union representative. Companions may assist staff in stating their case but may not answer instead of the employee.

Probationers will normally be informed in writing of the outcome of the appeal meeting within five working days of the meeting.

The decision of the Chair of the appeal meeting is final.

RESPONSIBILITIES

All those persons referred to within the scope of this procedure are expected to adhere to its requirements. Probation should be mandatory for Professional and Support staff and Research-only staff, and is strongly recommended for Teaching and Support staff, except where the need for a flexible approach is required for staff on very short contracts or engaged to teach a very low number of hours. Individual line managers are responsible for ensuring that this procedure is applied within their area.

Any queries on the application or interpretation of this procedure must be discussed with the HR team prior to any action being taken.

Birkbeck reserves the right to review, revise, amend or replace the content of this procedure and/or introduce new procedures from time to time, subject to good practice principles of consultation where applicable, to reflect the changing needs of the College and to comply with legislation.

The Director of Human Resources has responsibility for ensuring the maintenance, regular review and updating of this procedure.

The following have direct responsibilities under this procedure:

PROBATIONER

  • Understand the role, responsibilities, objectives, expected standards and procedures governing the post.
  • Regularly attend progress review meetings and communicate/take on board areas for improvement, where appropriate.
  • Complete mandatory training that is required during probationary period.
  • Contact their peer mentor when they would like a supportive ear, where appropriate.
  • If lodging an appeal against termination of contract, submit a written appeal to the Deputy Director of HR, normally within 5 working days of written confirmation of termination.

DIRECTOR OF PROFESSIONAL SERVICES DEPARTMENT/DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS/PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/ASSISTANT SCHOOL MANAGER (AS APPROPRIATE TO THE STAFF GROUP)

  • Ensure a named person is identified to the probationer as the member of staff who will oversee their probation. Normally this will be their line manager.
  • Where the line manager recommends that the probationer will have their contract terminated, discuss the reasons with the manager, and attend a meeting with the probationer, the manager and HR.

LINE MANAGER

  • Provide an explanation of the role, responsibilities, expected standards, objectives and procedures governing the post.
  • Liaise with HR on the reasonableness and practicalities of implementation of reasonable adjustments, where appropriate, and any related training and development needs.
  • Determine whether a peer mentor is required and appoint one, where appropriate.
  • Monitor probationer's progress during probation period.
  • Determine whether a peer mentor is required and appoint one, where appropriate.
  • Monitor probationer's progress during probation period.
  • Provide regular written progress reports, where appropriate.
  • Inform the probationer of areas where performance improvement is required, and consult HR on this, as appropriate.
  • At the mid-point of the probation period, complete a progress report and provide the probationer with a copy of the report.
  • Where required at the Mid-term Review, provide probationer with specific details of areas for improvement and timescales.
  • Consult with HR at an early stage where there are concerns, or where there is a need to issue an extension of the probation period.
  • Complete the Probation Review Form, including a written confirmation to the appropriate HR Business Partner, that the probationer should be confirmed in post or have their probation extended for a limited period, or with a recommendation that the probationer has their contract terminated.
  • Where recommending that the probationer should have their contract terminated, discuss the reasons with the Director of Professional Services Department/Director of Operations/Principal Investigator/Assistant School Manager (as appropriate to the staff group) and HR.
  • Attend any dismissal meetings with probationers (chaired by the Director of Professional Services department/Director of Operations/Principal Investigator/Assistant School Manager and supported by HR).

PEER MENTOR

  • Introduce themselves to the probationer and provide contact details.
  • Provide a listening ear, support, encouragement and advice to the probationer when requested (anything over a notional maximum of six hours over the probation period should be referred to the line manager before it is undertaken).

HUMAN RESOURCES

  • Provide professional advice and guidance at all stages of the probation process.
  • Send out confirmation letters.
  • Attend any meetings, as necessary, in an advisory capacity.
  • Where termination of appointment is necessary, provide written confirmation to the probationer.

DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF HR

  • Consider appeal request.
  • Appoint appeal panel if required.

CHAIR OF APPEAL PANEL

  • Hear appeal requests in an appeal panel meeting.
  • Ensure probationer has been informed of their right to be accompanied at the meeting.
  • Seek to reach consensus within the panel but take responsibility for final decisions where appropriate.
  • Ensure probationer is informed, in writing, of the outcome of the appeal within five working days of the meeting.
  • Seek the advice of their HR Business Partner prior to the appeal panel meeting.