This article explains the procedure that the practice may implement in cases where an employee is lacking in some area of knowledge, skill or ability, resulting in a failure to be able to carry out their required duties to an acceptable standard.

It may be used where there is a genuine lack of capability, rather than a deliberate failure on the part of the employee to perform to the standards of which he/she is capable – this would be covered by the practices disciplinary procedure.

A genuine lack of capability may have been present for some time, or may have come about more recently because of, for example, changing job content or personal factors affecting the individual’s performance.

The procedure seeks to:

•  assist employees to improve their performance, wherever possible, when such deficiencies exist provide a firm, but fair and consistent, means of dealing with capability problems without employing the disciplinary procedure

•  provide means for solving capability problems, where performance improvement in the current job is not possible.

Before invoking the Capability Procedure, the head nurse or practice manager must carry out a careful appraisal of the employee’s performance

Informal assistance

In the first instance, the head nurse or practice manager should discuss with the employee where their performance is failing. They should maintain personal notes of difficulties encountered, assistance given and any remedial actions taken for future reference in case formal action is needed; the employee is entitled to have a copy of such notes.

Nothing in this procedure is intended to prevent the normal process of supervisory control whereby the head nurse or practice manager allocates work, monitors performance, draws attention to errors and poor quality, and highlights work done well.

Formal procedure

If, following the informal guidance, the employee continues to fail to perform to an acceptable standard, despite having been given guidance and assistance, a formal counselling session will be arranged with the employee, with either the head nurse or practice manager giving written notice of the interview.

During this counselling, the employee will be told clearly of the deficiencies which have been identified and precisely of the improvement in work standard which is required (together with the possible consequences of not doing so). There must be an opportunity for the employee to answer these points and to explain any difficulties that he or she may be having, and to have a discussion on the ways and means by which the desired improvement may be achieved.

The conclusions from this counselling session will be recorded formally in writing with a copy given to the employee within five working days of the meeting. The employee will also be given details of the right of appeal.

A reasonable timescale for improvements will be set (length determined by individual circumstances but normally not longer than three months), with monitoring during that period. If the desired improvement is not being achieved, this will be recorded with the employee and he or she will be given a copy of the file note confirming the situation. At the end of the review period a formal review meeting will be held.

Adaptation of procedure for frequent/intermittent sickness absence

In cases where an employee is failing to meet required company standards of attendance in terms of frequent/ intermittent sickness absence, the Capability Procedure will follow the stages of the Disciplinary Procedure with the addition of formal counselling at each stage.

All warnings given during the procedure will be active for 12 months with review periods at six-monthly intervals.

Right to be accompanied

At all stages of the formal procedure, the employee will have the right to be accompanied by a colleague, lay or trade union official. It will be made clear in advance to the employee (and to the representative, if the employee exercises this option) that the Capability rather than the Disciplinary Procedure is being used.

For further support with this or any other HR issue BVNA members can call the BVNA IRS Helpline on 01822 870270


Nicky Ackerley BA(Hons)

Nicky Ackerley HR Support is owned by Nicky Ackerley who has a BA (Hons) Business Studies Degree, is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and who has been a practising HR manager for over 20 years. HR Support Consultancy has provided the BVNA's Industrial Relations Service since it began in 2002.

• VOL 27 • August 2012 • Veterinary Nursing Journal