The mythical unicorn that is medical boarding

Following a question regarding medical boarding from a reader, Charles Bailie, a labour lawyer, sets the facts straight.

I am often asked about medical boarding and how one would approach it, either as a company or as an individual. The question arises when faced with a debilitating illness, disease or disability which would prevent an individual from earning a living. These are never easy conversations, and difficult decisions need to be made by companies and individuals alike. This very often leaves the individual without an income at a time when they need it the most. 

Medical boarding in SA

At the outset, we need to dispel the myth of medical boarding and distinguish it from the notion of incapacity dismissals. 

Medical boarding is a term that you won’t find in the plethora of employment legislation in South Africa. It is a term that is used primarily by life insurance companies. 

Medical boarding is only considered when an individual is a member of a fund or scheme which provides disability benefits. 

Like any insurance, it will have to be proven by the individual in question that they are unable to work. The bar for medical boarding is set quite high. Very often the insurer is looking for definitive proof that the individual will never be able to work again. 

This bar is considerably lower for those policies that cover you for temporary periods when you can’t work. 

In either case, if the insurer finds merit in your claim then you will receive a monthly stipend from them  in line with the policy provisions. Like with any insurance, it’s dependent on how much you put in. The better the cover you’re looking for, the higher your premium will be. 

If you’re not fortunate enough to have such fund or scheme cover then medical boarding is simply not an option for you. 

Incapacity in the workplace

In contrast, incapacity, is the investigation process entered into by the company when looking to effectively dismiss an employee. Incapacity in the workplace falls into two distinct groups: poor work performance and ill health and/or injury. 

Incapacity for ill health/injury is  akin to adjudging whether the work the employee was tasked to do is a bridge too far given the nature and extent of the illness/injury. 

Section 10 of Schedule 8 of the Labour Relations Act provides a useful guide to employer and employee alike on how to deal with this. The Act prescribes that should an employee’s illness or injury preclude him/her from doing their duties, the employer can consider dismissal. 

It must be noted that this consideration must be met with the greatest amount of circumspection; it’s not as simple as saying, ‘they can’t do their job therefore they must go.’

SASSA Disability Grant 

Should you find yourself without employment and without disability insurance then your only recourse is  a disability grant through the Department of Social Development and the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA). 

To qualify, the applicant must:

  • be a South African citizen, permanent resident or refugee;
  • reside in South Africa;
  • be 18 to 59 years of age;
  • submit a medical/assessment report confirming disability (medical assessment must not be older than three months at date of application);
  • spouse must meet the requirements of the means test;
  • not be maintained or cared for in a State institution;
  • must not be in receipt of another social grant in respect of him or herself.

For more info, visit 

Therefore, if it’s not already too late, I would strongly suggest you investigate a fund or scheme that provides disability insurance. In the absence of this cover you are at the mercy of the State. 

Charles Bailie (Bproc, H Dip (Labour Law) (cum laude)) is a senior partner at Bailie Janke Snyman Attorneys.

MEET OUR EXPERT – Charles Bailie

Charles Bailie (Bproc, H Dip (Labour Law) (cum laude)) is a senior partner at Bailie Janke Snyman Attorneys.

26 Replies to “The mythical unicorn that is medical boarding”

    1. Hi Helena, unfortunately we can’t help with that. You would need to speak to a doctor or the HR department you work for.

  1. Hi. I am a Sales Rep in the building construction environment working for a big retail company.
    We are having a discussion tomorrow due to my continuel absence from work due to illness. I have been diagnosed with my lower respiratory tract not functioning which causes constant lung illnesses or problems. I have stopped smoking since January. My company benefits do have dissability insurance that gets deducted from my salary.
    Environmental allergens causes these infections and makes me struggling to breath. My hands and ankles swell as well to double their normal size when I struggle to breath. Can you give me advise please.

    1. Dear Karin
      Thank you for your comment. It would be best to consult directly with a labor lawyer as each case is different.
      For more info from the contributor who wrote this article please visit their website
      All the best.

    1. Hi Baatile, I think it all depends on the reason why you are being medically boarded. I suggest you seek advice from your doctor or your HR department.

  2. Good evening i have a problem i been off sick from March this year because I have a spinal stroke my provident fund pay over R100000 out that’s only my money what i have in my funds the club i work for apply for disability benefits according me and what my CEO say it will be 2x my annually salary,since April i’m on unpaid leave,i already use some of that money to pay some of my bills and buy food because i have kids on school and what they told me at the provident fund is that the company i work for already took me of the pay roll and i must pay back the money what they pay me,give me at vice please

  3. I were put off work from the 15 April 2019 after I handed a referral letter I received from a doctor.I only received my April wages and I’m still waiting on my provident fund.

  4. Good Day

    We have an employee that has cancer, she is now at a stage where she can no longer work due to the illness and has been advised by her medical professionals to stay at home.

    What would be that best option?

    How would she go about it? Can she claim from UIF ?

    1. Hi Dalene,

      Her doctor’s would be the best people to ask as they would have to write a letter stating she is medically unfit to work which then would need to be sent to the Human Resources Department at her place of employment. Regarding UIF, I suggest contacting a labour lawyer or the HR department should also know if she can. I don’t think she would be able to as she is unfit to work which would fall under disability. But, please contact a labour expert.

  5. Good day. What would be the criteria with workmens compensation fund and how they evlauate for medical boarding?

    1. Hi Sheetal, you would have to enquire directly with the organisations or ask your HR department.

  6. Hi I suffer from sever pain from fibromayagia and also have glaucoma..and advise if I can look into becoming medically boarded.Each day becomes harder and harder to get out of bed due to pain.

    1. Please consult a labour lawyer and speak to the human resource department at your work.

  7. Hi. I was diagnosed with development of Cervical cancer.I am due to be admitted on the 6th March for a Hysterectomy on the 11th due to the Cancer cells that have been found on my Womb . I will be hospitalised for about a week and recovery period will be about 6 weeks. I have exhausted all my sick leave. My employer knows little about incapacity leave. Can I apply for incapacity leave and what are the chances of it being approved?

    1. Hi Tsakane,

      Please see advice from a labour lawyer and communicate with the human resource department of your employer.

  8. Hi I was diagnosed with cancer in Dec 2019 and have completed the treatment plan but cancer is still present. The side effect of the radiation is that it has damaged my lungs and they will never fully recover. I have difficulty walking up stairs and driving. Can i apply for medical boarding. Also, how much of my salary (percentage wise) will i loose if i get medically boarded

    1. Good day, you would have to talk to the human resource department where you work to see if they have disability cover. You can also seek advice from a labour lawyer.

  9. I was diagnosed with T.B and HIV so i was on medical separation for sometime, so after they stopped paying me that 75percent of my salary, they gave me a UI 19 reason is medical boarded.

  10. I have been medically boarded I would like to know if I am entitled to a severance pay from my company tnks

    1. Dear Suresh, please consult with labour consultant for professional advise. Regards the Publishing Team

      1. Most of your answers says consult a labor attorney, does it help to send questions to this forum?

        1. Hi Themba, we are not a forum. We are a lifestyle publication for breast cancer patients. Most articles are written by experts hence why we (the publishing company) can’t answer the questions.

  11. Hi, if an educator was medically boarded and draws those benefits, is employed by a prior school principal in an SGB educators position, is she committing fraud? It is unknown if this medical scenario was declared to the principal at the time of employment. Is there any liability vicarious or not to the current SGB by keeping her in employ?

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