An employee’s competency relates to their knowledge, abilities and skills in performing their working duties. Employers can ensure that they have effective and essential competencies within their workforce through a well-structured recruitment and selection process and existing employee competencies may be developed through investment in training and education.
An employer can justify dismissing an employee on the basis of their incompetency when performing their work. As such, competency differs from misconduct in that it generally relates to an employee’s ability to carry out their work satisfactorily despite their best efforts. An important question that an employer should consider if looking to discipline on incompetency grounds is whether or not that employee’s performance can be measured in some accurate or tangible way. It is difficult to justify disciplinary action for incompetence where the employer cannot pinpoint any particular issue of concern. The introduction of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) or an appraisal system may be used for this purpose. In addition, it is extremely unlikely that an employer will be able to justify dismissing an employee for one single act of incompetence and more often than not an employer will be expected to issue the employee with a number of warnings in addition to providing additional support and training throughout the employment relationship. Similar to misconduct, employers must ensure that fair procedures are followed when issuing competency warnings. However, employers need to be aware that disciplinary warnings for incompetency are completely separate from disciplinary warnings for misconduct and, for example, a pre-existing verbal warning for misconduct cannot be used to justify issuing a written warning when a competency issue arises.