Capability Policy

Capability Policy

Capability refers to an individual staff member’s ability to perform the work expected of them to the required standards.


University College Cork is committed to supporting and developing its staff to ensure that they are able to fulfil their roles and responsibilities to a high standard of competence. Underperformance is not acceptable to the University and needs to be addressed in a reasonable, timely and constructive manner to ensure that the University continues to provide an effective service to all its stakeholders. The University affirms that the vast majority of its staff meet or exceed performance demands in delivering their roles, however problems can and do arise and this policy and procedure is intended to provide a framework for dealing with them in a fair, supportive and consistent manner. In applying this policy the University recognises a duty of care to all staff that may be affected by a staff member’s underperformance.

Every effort is made in the University’s recruitment and selection procedures to ensure that staff have the appropriate skills and abilities for the roles that they are recruited to fulfil. The University operates a Performance and Development Review System (PDRS) for staff, introduced across the University in 2005, which was developed to allow structured discussions around performance and development and to agree future performance objectives. Although PDRS is an important tool to assist in the management of performance it is not a replacement for the on-going management of performance which should be delivered through regular constructive feedback relating to work performance. Likewise this Capability Policy is not a substitute for effective and supportive day to day line management and an employee’s self-management of his/her own performance and capability. Therefore underperformance issues should not be allowed to accumulate unresolved until recourse to the Capability Policy and Procedure becomes inevitable.

The Capability Procedure is intended to:

  •  Provide staff and line management with a readily accessible framework for dealing with under performance in a fair, supportive and consistent manner where performance difficulties arise as a result of a capability issue  Attain the required improvement in cases where performance falls short of that expected of a staff member in a particular post or grade
  • Ensure that issues of capability are handled appropriately with any underlying reasons taken into account University College Cork November 2012
  • Provide appropriate support (via EAP services and relevant HR policies and procedures) and development within a capability review process
  • Provide a framework to support performance enhancement where underperformance has been identified through any University system or process including the University’s PDRS process.


This Policy and accompanying procedure applies to all individuals holding a contract of employment with University College Cork with the following exceptions:

  •  Cases of misconduct, and such acts, which should be handled under the University’s Disciplinary Procedure
  •  Cases where there is a lack of capability to perform at the required standard due to certified ill health, medical grounds or disability


Capability refers to an individual staff member’s ability to perform the work expected of them to the required standards. A distinction is made between capability and conduct. Generally a capability issue occurs where an employee is motivated to carry out his/her role but for some reason cannot. It is acknowledged that all staff operate in a changing environment which can in some instances lead to a change in capability which in turn can be supported through the application of this procedure.

Possible reasons for underperformance can be associated with the individual, line management or organisational approach including:

a. Work factors that may be outside the direct control of the manager

b. Work factors that may be the responsibility of the manager

c. Work factors that may be the responsibility of the employee

d. External factors that may be outside the direct control of the employee

e. External factors that may be within the direct control of the employee

f. Organisation Change

A capability issue potentially may be deemed to exist where there is:

  • A failure to meet the required standards of performance as set out in a staff member’s job description or other relevant documents pertaining to their role
  • Delivery of work that differs from that specified for the role
  •  Inadequate qualifications, skills and/or knowledge to perform in the role
  • Lack of necessary professional insight or judgement  
  • Inability to manage reasonable workloads and timelines for completion of work
  • Inability to recognise and address key issues and priorities.
  • Lower performance than other colleagues carrying out comparable work or who work at a similar level in the University
  • Higher error rates than other colleagues carrying out comparable work or who work at a similar level in the University


a) The relevant HR Business Manager is available to provide advice, guidance and support throughout the implementation of this procedure. 

b) Where a line manager intends to invoke this procedure the HR Department needs to be informed prior to its application.

c) The distinction between issues of capability and issues of conduct may not be clear in some cases therefore it is important to distinguish between them as early as possible to ensure that the correct procedure is used. Where clarity does not exist around the underperformance issue then it should be treated as a capability issue in the first instance. All capability cases should be addressed through the informal capability procedure first and should aim to provide a positive, supportive and empathic approach so that both parties can explore and address the underperformance issue

d) Where underperformance is judged to result from conduct (over which the employee has control) the University’s Disciplinary procedure will apply.

e) Performance issues should be addressed in a sensitive and responsible manner by the relevant line manager as soon as they occur or are observed

f) All staff should be clearly informed of their responsibilities and the standard of work performance required of them, either at the commencement of their work or promotion in the area

g) It is recognised that there may be more than one underlying cause to the underperformance issue

h) Managers should make full use of other supporting and relevant University policies as soon as possible in the capability procedure. These include policies relating to sickness, absence, Employee Assistance Programme, etc

i) Where an employee accepts responsibility for his/her contribution to a performance problem and is willing to address the situation proactively, the University will support him/her in whatever manner it reasonably can for as long as is practical

j) The line manager should seek advice from the person to whom s/he reports in advance of applying this procedure.


All Staff members are entitled to:

i) invoke this procedure where they feel they have a capability issue as defined in this policy in relation to the delivery of their role

ii) information relating to the performance requirements of their role

iii) seek assistance, without prejudice, from their Head if they have concerns about anything which may be affecting their performance

iv) be treated with dignity and respect at all times as set out in the University’s Duty of Respect and Right to Dignity policy.

All staff members are responsible for:

i) performing their duties and responsibilities to a satisfactory level

ii) engaging in any reasonable training and development that will enable them to reach and maintain the required level of performance for the effective delivery of their role

iii) understanding that if their work performance falls below that which is deemed to be acceptable, the person to whom they report will be obliged to address this

iv) responding proactively to corrective measures as identified

v) familiarising themselves with University procedures relating to their employment

vi) informing the person to whom they report of any issues which could be affecting their work performance. 

All staff holding a management position are responsible for:

i) ensuring that all staff reporting to them are aware of their responsibilities and the performance standards relating to their role

ii) minimising the risk of underperformance by recruiting, selecting, developing and managing staff appropriately.

iii) setting and communicating standards of performance in a manner that can be clearly understood as soon as a staff member takes up a role in their area

iv) ensuring that staff have a reasonable workload

v) providing regular feedback on work performance to every member of staff for whom they are responsible

vi) provide appropriate support and assistance to facilitate staff in reaching and maintaining the required standards of work

vii) dealing with underperformance as it becomes evident to avoid this having a negative effect on the performance or morale of the area

viii) ensure that matters relating to an staff member’s work performance are dealt with sensitively and consistently, maintaining confidentiality and the staff member’s dignity

ix) conduct regular performance and development reviews as outlined in the University’s Performance and Development Review Policy.

All staff holding a management position have a duty to:

i) communicate with sensitivity and confidentiality regarding the factors which may be affecting a staff member’s work performance within the scope of this policy.


When an underperformance issue cannot be resolved through normal line management intervention the informal procedure for managing capability issues should be followed. The informal procedure is aimed at bringing concerns to the attention of the staff member, exploring the perceived causes, identifying responsibilities and agreeing a corrective action plan. The procedure is based on a mutual process of a) defining the underperformance issue and b) finding appropriate resolution within an agreed timeframe.

1. An informal meeting involving the staff member and manager should be convened as soon as is reasonably practical after concerns arise at management level in relation to performance or when the underperformance issue is evident.

2. The meeting should cover the following aspects:

a. The delivery of performance

b. The perceived causes of any perceived gap in the delivery of performance

c. The impact of any underperformance on the staff member and the area/academic unit

d. The actions to be taken with clear indication of who has responsibility for each action

e. The performance standards that are required

f. The support (e.g. training, qualification, mentoring) to be given to the employee to facilitate the achievement of performance enhancement

g. A timeline to review the agreed performance enhancement plan (normally within 6-10 weeks)

3. Agreed notes should be kept of the meeting and confirmed in writing to the staff member – signed by both the staff member and the person to whom they report. These notes shall be held for a period of one year but this period may be extended in the event of non-resolution of the performance issue(s).

4. Once the agreed review period has lapsed an informal meeting should be convened with the staff member. The aim of this meeting should be to assess the progress made in delivery the performance enhancement targets as set out in the performance enhancement action plan.


The outcomes from application of the Capability Policy and Procedure may be classified as:

1. those matters that can be dealt with in a normal line management meeting format and

2. those which require subsequent discussion following the absence of progress from the initial informal meeting(s).For the latter the staff member should be given two weeks’ notice of the meeting and be offered the option of being accompanied by a trade union representative or work colleague.

Possible Outcomes from the Informal Capability Procedure (from a one to one meeting with their line manager) may include but not be limited to:

  • Where underperformance is due to issues outside the individual’s control these will be dealt with under a HR review.
  • No further action under the Capability procedure as the staff member’s work performance has improved to a satisfactory level
  • Continuation of an informal approach i.e. an extension of the review period
  • Providing support through engagement of other relevant policies and procedures
  • Providing appropriate training or development opportunities

Possible Outcomes from the Informal Capability Procedure (where initial meetings and opportunities for improvement have not been successful and where the staff member may choose to have a representative present) may include but are not limited to:

  • Conducting a review of the duties, responsibilities, reporting line or other relevant aspects of the staff members role
  • By agreement, redeploying the employee to a more suitable area/ role within the staff member’s work area.
  • By agreement, exploring the possibility of re-deployment to another more appropriate role/ area in the University.
  • Progression to the initial step of the Disciplinary Procedure

Human Resources

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