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.

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