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Do you know the difference between disability and work incapacity? Make sure you do, before you dismiss that employee

by , 10 December 2013
Some employers tend to confuse disability and work incapacity. The truth is, there's a difference between the two and you need to be aware of what they are to effectively manage these two scenarios...

The Labour Law for Managers Loose Leaf Service says you need to know what you legally have to do if an employee becomes disabled.

You must see if you can accommodate his disability. If you can't, you'll have to dismiss him for incapacity because he can't fulfill his duties.

This means you must understand the difference between disability and work incapacity.

What is disability in the workplace?

A disability is the long-term or recurring physical or mental impairment. It can limit an employee's chances of entry into, or advancement in employment.

What is work incapacity?

Work incapacity, on the other hand, is when an employee can't do the core duties of his job in a specific work environment. Someone can be completely or partially incapacitated. And you can dismiss an employee for incapacity.

Please note that disability isn't the only possible reason for work incapacity. But in this article, we'll only be using it in terms of disabilities.

The difference between disability and work incapacity explained

Someone can have a disability, but still have the capacity to work. In the same way, someone can have the incapacity to do his job, but not be disabled.

For example: Ms Mokoena is in a wheelchair. But has the full capacity to do her job as an HR assistant. On the other hand, Ms Smith isn't disabled, but is often absent due to ongoing health issues. This is work incapacity.

In terms of labour law, you must try accommodate a disabled employee. You can do this by changing the job or work environment so the disabled employee can do his job.

If you can't reasonably accommodate an employee's disability, then you can dismiss him for incapacity.

Follow these three steps before dismissing a disabled employee for incapacity

If the incapacity is because of the disability, it's automatically unfair to dismiss him without first following these steps:

Step #1: Check if reasonable accommodations would allow him to do his job. If they will, you have to provide these accommodations.

Step #2: If you can't make reasonable accommodations, see if you have a suitable alternative job at the same level. If you do, offer it to him.
Step #3: If you don't have another job at the same level, see if you have a suitable lower level job. If you do, offer this to him.

The bottom line: Take all possible steps to accommodate a disabled employee so you can defend yourself in court if you have to dismiss him.

Knowing the difference between disability and work incapacity will help ensure you deal with these situations effectively.

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