I apologise in advance for the length of this post but I wanted to make sure I was able to give all the details up front.

I started working for a very large company 4 months ago as a software engineer. All is well and it's a great place to work, the first month gave me some transport problems and as a result my manager said at the time that they would length my probation (hence the 4 months, as of last week). This was fine, I wasn't late but he also wasn't sure if I'd be able to maintain my arrangement, anyway, I digress.

2 months in the contractor I was sitting next to left and a girl from the other team took his place. It's no secret that she's untidy, her desk is a wreck. Mouldy cups, mess everywhere and so on.
She sits in between myself and a friend of mine that started before I did. We became aware of the mess and the distractions it caused (she liked to swear - A LOT - my belief is that was an attention seeking thing as she'd often swear, look up to see if her old team members noticed and then swear louder if they hadn't) - the final straw was when we saw her sweep cereal onto the floor and crush it in. When I asked her if she'd had a fight with the floor she replied that it was to spite one of the cleaners that had annoyed her. This prompted myself and friend to ask the manager to have a word, he sent her an email. The floor became cleaner and the swearing stopped.

All seemed well and another month passed, then last week it took a nose dive. She also had a terrible habit of blowing her nose, casting the tissue aside on her desk and then reusing the same tissue, at times it was difficult to painting stomach contents.

We had an ABC meeting and we ended up sitting next to one another, we were crammed into this room and it wasn't ideal. Tissues aplenty were very close and it was quite awkward. I hadn't said anything at this point as I simply didn't know how to. The next day the meeting continues and I change seats, tadaaaa. The following day we're back at our desks and it all gets too much, tissues are everywhere and she's eating cereal, after chewing a mouthful she picks up the toothbrush, brushes teeth, rinse and repeat. I see the dirty brush with bits of cereal on it, I see it go back in and I almost crumble. I walk away to get a drink hoping that by the time I get back she's finished. She hasn't and I end up saying 'why are on earth are you brushing your teeth at your desk?!?' I said it too loudly, too aggressively and too unprofessionaly. I instantly regretted it and walked away.

I know I handled the situation incorrectly, we were in a public forum and I never should have said what I did how I did.

On Monday i have a meeting with my manager, this is to congratulate me on passing the probation. I thank him and say there's something else and explain what happened. He wasn't happy and put the emphasis on my making a mistake, says he'll talk to her about it and to not apologise yet.

With noting that she's a senior dev and has been there 4 years, compared to her I add very little value to the team, if any.

There were 4 people present when I made the mistake, myself, her, the friend and a principle engineer(although I'm not sure whether he said he was present or not as the manager changed his story a couple of times during the meeting)

We had a meeting earlier today, he basically said he would've ended my contract had he known about the incident before the verbal congrats. (It was me that told him about it, she, nor anyone else mentioned it) It was a long drawn out meeting but ultimately ended with him saying they will extend my probation for at least another 2 months, and that should they want to, they can fire me at any point within 2 years.

This is clearly concerning. I feel like I'm on borrowed time and that he will do what he can to find a reason to end my contract. We've had a discussion before when I first started about him wanting to get rid of someone and was finally able to when the opportunity arose and so I'm worried if the same will happen to me.

My question really is what I can do, if anything, to protect myself. I know I screwed up with the comment, I can't change that. If I'm unable to change him from pursuing my dismissal I'd at least like to be equipped with the knowledge to help me defend my case. He mentioned that he had spoken to HR and that this 2 year thing when they can dismiss people is viable. Aside from gross misconduct I thought that was not allowed?!

At the meeting nothing was signed, it was a '2 minute' informal chat. similarly I've also received nothing in writing to state I've passed my probation either. I started on the 1st June. I had a one month extension, this was hand delivered to me but it was also back dated by a week and not signed (it was handed to me after the 3 months were up, not sure if this is important / relevant).

Thanks for any help / advice.

Just to reiterate, I know I screwed up, I'd like to know what rights I have, also the rights of the company and whether this extension is allowed or whether... i don't know anymore, these 'serious' meetings have been quite 'fluffy'.

PS - The tags may not be the best, feel free to update if you think others are better suited, thank you.

I also work in the UK.

snippet from contract another snippet

  • 8
    'Why are on earth are you brushing your teeth at your desk?' got you 2 months probation. She gets nothing for swearing and throwing cereal on the ground? They can do what they want but does not sound fair.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 19:03
  • 1
    @RSmith, my hope is also that someone on this forum, a manager or otherwise may have been in a similar situation and could advise - in addition to the legalities of course
    – null
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 19:22
  • 4
    You coworker has serious mental health issues. The fact that the manager doesn't recognize that and is instead getting ready to terminate you, makes me think there is other stuff going on here.
    – teego1967
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 19:24
  • 4
    I would just take a photo of the desk of your neighbor, tell the manager that he is a retard and look for another job. If they ask you about the short stay you can show the photo.
    – user71715
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 11:58
  • 1
    @null regarding the legality of dismissing someone in the UK: yes, in theory there are laws protecting workers from being fired for "no reason"; but in practice the company will either: a) do things by the book, and give you a verbal warning, then a written warning, then fire you, which takes a few months; or b) they'll make your job role redundant, which makes it nice and easy for them. Your only recourse will be to retain an employment lawyer, who will probably (hopefully) tell you that it's not worth your time or money to pursue the case.
    – Aaron F
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 13:28

1 Answer 1


All is well and it's a great place to work, the first month gave me some transport problems and as a result my manager said at the time that they would length my probation [..] he also wasn't sure if I'd be able to maintain my arrangement

This is already strange. Nobody knows how the future looks like. You could end up in hospital tomorrow - with this reasoning, your probation would never end. Anyway, the reasons for extending the probation should be in your contract. If the contract has no option for the employer to extend your probation, they are not allowed to (although they still might do it).

He mentioned that he had spoken to HR and that this 2 year thing when they can dismiss people is viable. Aside from gross misconduct I thought that was not allowed?!

I try to keep it simple:

There are fair reasons to dismiss you and unfair reasons. If you have worked for two years for the company, you can claim that the reasons were unfair in front of the employment tribunal. For a specific set of dismissal reasons you don't even need to be employed for two years to claim unfair reasons.

But..not getting along with your colleagues is considered a fair reason for dismissal and is also not one of the protected dismissal reasons.

About the probation period - the probation period has actually nothing to do with your rights about dismissal, they are not worse or better during probation.

From a personal point of view, I think the reaction of the manager is a rather harsh overreaction. Humans are and will ever be (hopefully) humans. This is a toxic workplace.

  • 1
    thank you for taking the time to reply. your comment about toxicity is interesting and one I hadn't considered. I've edited the post to include snippets of my contract, it's quite in their favour, as of course you would expect. I hadn't realised that not being able to get along with colleagues was a sackable offence, thank you for pointing that out.
    – null
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 19:28
  • also, @Lars, does this mean that I have no chance whatsoever? If he deems me to be 'not getting along with her', then I guess that's the end of the road? I either have to suck it up and make her happy / like me or get the sack?! woot. :)
    – null
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 19:33
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    @SteveGreen It's not legal for me to give individual legal advice. I can only explain how the system works; applying this information to your individual case must be done by yourself or a lawyer. Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 19:42
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    I concur with the toxic workplace. If I were you I'd be considering my options and jump before I was pushed.
    – Tom Bowen
    Commented Oct 9, 2015 at 14:48
  • 3
    Start looking for another job, if that is possible. This is not a good environment to be in. I've seen several like it, and heard about others. They always end badly, in varying degrees. One caution - when you go looking for another job do not mention why you want to leave. It will end up reflecting badly on you. If you can, find some other believable reason. Commented Oct 9, 2015 at 20:19

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