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What's the difference between capability and conduct?

By partnersinhr, Nov 6 2017 12:40PM

In a fast-paced world, you need your employees to share your vision of a productive and profitable business. Particularly in smaller teams, the impact of underperformance can be very noticeable and cause real problems.If you’ve come to the difficult point where you’re in need of some assistance with employee performance issues, then you may be aware of two potential avenues that can address the problem – capability and discipline. The two terms seem pretty interchangeable, but there are some key differences between the two, and both should be treated in line with their respective policies. The question is whether you understand the difference between the two.


The University of Nottingham has found a way to summarise the two. With capability, the employee is not able to get to the standards required, but with a disciplinary matter, the employee is not willing to get to the standards required.


If an employee’s performance isn’t as good as it could be, or poor behaviour is a problem, then the usual course of action is to treat it as a disciplinary matter. Disciplinary procedures usually come about as a result of the employee deliberately failing to do something that they should have been able to do. This could be classed as negligence, carelessness, or just a lack of effort.


Capability procedures are a different matter, and should be considered if it’s felt that the employee lacks the ability, skill or knowledge to do their job to the level required of them. The capability procedures should be put into place as soon as possible, to help the employee improve their performance, and provide them with support to get them back to the required standard within a given timeframe.


One particularly difficult facet to address is how to tackle capability matters when it comes to ill health, particularly where this results in long-term absence. UK businesses lost 137 million working days due to sickness or injury last year, leaving them with a bill of £15 billion. In this instance, you should tread carefully, as if handled incorrectly, it could leave you open to a claim for unfair dismissal. It’s wise to start with a discussion with the employee regarding the cause and effect of their absence, and then seek a medical report either from a medical professional you have appointed to make suggestions about how to assist the employee. You may be able to make reasonable adjustments to resolve the situation in a supportive manner. You must be able to show that you have been fair to all parties to avoid the potential of an employment tribunal.


It can be confusing to come to a decision on which way to handle poor performance, particularly when many cases can initially present as one but then transpire to be the other. We would always advise that you have individual policies for capability and disciplinary procedures, as they really are very different matters, and it’s vital that you select the correct option to avoid getting yourself in hot water. After all, a tribunal case from unfair dismissal can lead to an employee being awarded as much as £80,541 if they can prove their case. If you’re unsure of the best way to proceed, then Partners in HR can advise and support you on this and all matters of employee relations.



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