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Recruitment and verification checks - It's serious business

Updated: May 9


The misrepresentation of qualifications is a pervasive and menacing evil that greedily devours and indelibly taints our employment landscape. It trivialises our institutions of learning, devalues the sanctity of honest educational pursuits and cheapens legitimate and hard-earned achievements. It can never be excused, rationalized or condoned.”

This is what the Labour Court had to say in June 2023, in the case of Lesedi Local Municipality v Mphele and Others (JR1546/20) [2023] ZALCJHB 183. In fact, the judge said quite a bit more, in most disparaging terms – which signifies the level of frustration that employers and legal-/educational institutions have to contend with in an environment where “augmenting one’s qualifications and achievements has become fashionable”.

This reality has caught up with employers, recruiters, employees and job applicants and with it came a slew of additional laws, obligations and checks and balances that the role players have to observe. The fall-out could be significant – not only for employers, but also for the perpetrators of dishonesty in this regard.

Trust, but verify

In employment, it is all about trust. All employees owe their employers a duty of good faith under the South African common law – which includes loyalty, honesty and trust. It is the cornerstone of any employment relationship and a breakdown in trust can render (continued) employment impossible. It does not matter if the person can actually do the job, or how likeable they are – if the trust is gone, so is the working relationship.

Misrepresentation of qualifications or achievements, or lying or keeping quiet about anything that is relevant and material to the specific job or working environment, has been found by the courts to severely damage this trust relationship, and hence would justify termination of employment (or non-appointment of a job applicant).

It is therefore crucial that recruiters / employers verify the details of job applicants – and this should preferably happen prior to making an offer. While it is possible to make a conditional offer or appointment or sign a contract subject to positive vetting, it is not without complications. Since a contractual relationship comes into existence upon the acceptance of the basic terms of an offer (even if the person did not start working yet, or a written document has not been signed), it may be argued that would technically constitute a dismissal to ‘withdraw’ the offer thereafter, and a fair dismissal process will accordingly have to be followed in terms of the Labour Relations Act. A properly drafted conditional offer or contract may well enable the employer to lawfully terminate the contract - but the risk of an employee nevertheless referring an unfair dismissal dispute in terms of labour law, may still need to be contended with.

In addition, if deception relating to misrepresentation of qualifications is not caught prior to appointment and only found out later, loss of trust and terminating the employment contract is by far not the only issue that an employer will have to deal with. There are various other risks that an employer may be exposed to if it (even unknowingly) appoints a person whose qualifications and/or expertise have been falsified.

Risks and obligations

An obvious risk to an employer who appoints someone with overstated claims as to their qualifications and expertise, is mistakes and under-delivery in the performance of the job. This could be especially egregious in the case of professional and technical staff, and the employer may be exposed to legal liability, penalties, damages and/or reputational harm relating to the service rendered to its clients. [See Boss Logistics v Phopi (2010) 31 ILJ 1644 (LC)]

If the company submits tenders, which generally require the CV’s of the employees who will be working on the project to be included, a falsified CV could also amount to tender fraud on the part of the employer – even if the employee can actually do the job in a satisfactory manner.

An important development in October 2023, was the enactment of most of the provisions of the National Qualifications Framework Act (2019). Whilst the Act places a myriad of obligations on the SA Qualifications Authority (SAQA), such as compiling a national student records database and registers with qualifications and professional designations; and on educational institutions and professional bodies to register with and provide prescribed information to SAQA, two sections are of particular importance in relation to the employment space.

  • In terms of s32B of the Act, it is now a criminal offence, punishable by a fine and/or five years’ imprisonment, for anyone to claim to hold a qualification which is registered in terms of the Act, if this is not true.

  • Section 32A(1), which has however not yet been enacted, will soon also make it compulsory for employers to  validate any qualification presented to it by ensuring that the qualification is registered on the SAQA national students’ records database, before appointing a prospective employee.

Verification of qualifications is already an obligation in the case of Accountable Institutions under the Financial Intelligence Centre Act (FICA). In terms of its Directive 8, issued in 2023, such institutions must periodically assess both current and prospective employees for their competence and integrity, in a risk-based manner, as well as scrutinise employee information against targeted financial sanctions lists. Failure to do so, may result in an administrative sanction in terms of the Act. They must also have specific SOP’s in place for recruitment and verification.

Senior executives or directors are often more readily appointed and their qualifications taken on face value, based on their history in the industry. If these turn out to be false at a later stage, the employer may be obliged, read together with the NQFA, to report this to the police (Hawks) under s34 of the Preventing and Combatting Corrupt Activities Act, as a crime involving more than R100,000. Listed companies must further also adhere to the requirements of the King Code in terms of verifying the qualifications of directors or prescribed officers.

Employers functioning in the education space, or in relation to retirement homes, shelters, mental institutions, etc. where their staff will be in contact with ‘vulnerable persons’, have further obligations in terms of the  Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, 2021.

  • ‘Vulnerable persons’ are defined as children, the mentally disabled, female students under 25, victims of crime being cared for in shelters, persons of over 60, or persons with other types of disabilities in community care facilities.

  • Such employers are prohibited from employing anyone whose name is included in the National Register for Sex Offenders, and a clearance certificate will therefore have to be provided by the job applicant, or obtained by the employer from the Registrar.

Schools or organisations working with minor children also have to observe the provisions of the Children’s Act, which prohibits the employment of persons who have been reported, convicted or found guilty (even in disciplinary proceedings) of abuse or the deliberate neglect of a child and whose names appear in the Child Protection Register (Part B). The Department of Social Development is mandated to keep and maintain a record of persons who are unsuitable to work with children and clearances in this regard will be required for job applicants.  



Should an employer find itself in a situation where a job applicant or employee had misrepresented their qualifications, expertise, membership of professional bodies, etc., there are a number of ways to address this, depending on the facts of the particular case. The employer will have to consider the various options available to it, the conflation of the different areas of the law, and take a strategic decision accordingly.   

Termination of contract

The Labour Courts have been clear about the determination that an employer can fairly dismiss an employee for misrepresenting their qualifications. It has been found that such an act constitutes dishonesty and is sufficient to warrant dismissal for misconduct, even if the conduct is discovered only later, and regardless of whether the employee can actually do the job, or that the qualification is not a minimum requirement for the position. Also, if the employee comes clean later, this does not absolve them from having made the misrepresentation in the first place. [See Rainbow Farms v Dorasamy (2014) 35 ILJ 3462 (LC); G4S Secure Solutions v Ruggiero (2017) 38 ILJ 881 (LAC)]

In terms of contractual law, terminating the employment contract would be lawful if the appointment was made subject to positive vetting, and this does not happen (even if there had not been any misrepresentation by the employee). In the case of Nogcantsi v Mnquma Local Municipality and Others (PA07/15) [2016] ZALAC 54 the Labour Appeal Court held that a conditional contract of employment is a commercial reality and since the outcome is dependent on feedback from external parties and not in the control of the employer, it would not constitute a dismissal if the employee had freely agreed to termination of the contract in the case of negative feedback. Care must be taken, however, around the drafting of the conditional clause, and the vetting outcomes must be material to the position (see below).


The employer may also be successful in claiming damages from the employee, if the damages can be proven to the satisfaction of the relevant civil court.  

In Passenger Rail Agency SA (‘PRASA’) v Daniel Mthimkhulu (Case No 42056/2015), the employer dismissed the employee, but then in addition, also instituted a claim on the basis of a delict in the High Court.  The court was satisfied that the elements of a delict had been satisfied, namely intentional/negligent wrongful conduct (misrepresenting his qualifications) on the part of the employee, which could be directly linked to financial loss suffered by the employer in terms of the remuneration paid to the employee based on the false qualifications.

Criminal offences

A criminal complaint can also be laid against a job seeker or employee who misrepresented qualifications, under s32B of the NQFA as referred to above. The section is drafted quite broadly, so it would potentially go beyond the contents of a CV and include fraudulent misrepresentations on social media platforms, such as LinkedIn.

Verification – Do’s and Don’ts

Some takeaways to keep in mind when navigating the recruitment and onboarding process, which could mitigate potential risks for the employer:

  • The ideal is to complete all verification and integrity checks prior to making an offer, an appointment, or allowing the person to start work.

  • People are getting increasingly cunning when engaging in this kind of deceit – so do not only rely on emails from educational institutions or documents provided by the job applicant. Insist on seeing original certificates, or follow up with phone calls. (We have seen employees who have falsified a string of consecutive emails ostensibly sent from universities as well as SAQA. The fraud was only uncovered when the employer actually phoned up these institutions in an attempt to verify the emails.) Checking on CIPC to verify directorships is also a good option. Applicants with suspicious qualifications should be reported to SAQA for further investigation.

  • Under POPIA, a job applicant’s consent is required in order to do various integrity checks and verifications. The best way to obtain this, is in conjunction with using a carefully drafted Application Form which elicits all the necessary and relevant information for the particular position. It is easy to manipulate the contents of a CV and to claim ‘forgetfulness’ or ‘mistakes’ later on – but not so much if a direct question is asked and answered. It is important that the job applicant personally completes the application form (and any subsequent onboarding forms), and also provide consent for verifications, references and checks in relation to the specific information provided.   

  • Remember also that, according to the Code of Good Practice on the Integration of Employment Equity into Human Resource Policies and Practices, an employer should only conduct integrity checks, such as verifying the qualifications of an applicant, contacting credit references and investigating whether the applicant has a criminal record, if this is relevant to the requirements of the job. If overly broad, it could potentially amount to a breach of privacy or unfair discrimination. A balance must be struck between the individual’s rights and the legitimate interests of the employer. For example, a recent case has highlighted the fact that an employer cannot have a ‘blanket’ ban on appointing anyone with a criminal record, but that it will depend on whether a past conviction would have an adverse impact on the rights or interests of the employer. [O’ Connor v LexisNexis (Pty) Ltd (P18/24) [2024] ZALCPE 11] Factors to consider in each case may include the scope and extent of the job, seniority, exposure to sensitive information, etc.

  • It is also advisable, once an appointment is made, for the employer to remain vigilant and alive to the possibility of such misrepresentations. For example, when employees are considered for promotion, or when they claim to have successfully completed exams or obtained qualifications, the employer should verify the relevant details. This also applies to aspects such as clearance certificates (Sex Offenders / Children’s Act), which should be reviewed and updated regularly.     


This area of the employment landscape is fraught with potential risks and fall-outs, and it is not likely to get easier. Employers should review their existing policies and procedures and put appropriate safeguards in place to reveal dishonest opportunists. Verification of qualifications, in particular, is a necessity in our current economic climate.


 © Judith Griessel


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