“Fraud is a cancer that is crippling our country” (Supreme Court of Appeal in 2019)
An all-too-common scenario in these times of high unemployment is job applicants who, desperate to be hired, lie about their qualifications on their CVs. Recent high-profile stories of fake doctors and the like are no doubt only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this growing problem.
And of course, the consequences for any business hiring such a candidate can be extremely serious. You face loss of reputation, loss of clients, dangerous workplaces where safety issues are at stake, and potential liability for any damage caused by the under-qualified employee.
The new offences
But there is help at hand! All employers, employees and jobseekers need to know that anyone lying about their qualifications now faces heavy fines and up to 5 years’ imprisonment.
That’s in terms of the newly operational National Qualifications Framework Amendment Act, which makes it a criminal offence to “falsely or fraudulently” claim to be holding a qualification or part-qualification from any educational or skills development provider, including a foreign institution. Fraudulent claims needn’t necessarily be in the form of a CV – any deliberate “falsification and dissemination or publication” of false qualifications is now criminalized, so posting fake matric certificates or degrees on social media for example would now be a criminal offence.
What you should do as an employer
- If a job seeker lies
Of course, prevention is always better than cure, do your due diligence upfront – verify all qualifications claimed, speak personally to references, query inconsistencies or gaps in CVs and so on.
You naturally won’t hire an applicant who turns out to be a liar but think of going one step further – lay criminal charges! It may seem overkill but the applicant has put your business at risk just by claiming the false qualification, and the best protection you can have from future attempts to defraud you in this way is to build a reputation for taking firm action against cheats.
- If an existing employee lies
If on the other hand you find out that an existing employee has been guilty of CV fraud, either to get the job initially or to qualify for a benefit such as a promotion, you have a range of options available to you –
- Lay charges: Send out a clear message: “Don’t mess with us!” by pursuing criminal charges, either as above if it’s qualification fraud or under our general criminal laws for other types of fraud. A recent example is provided by the case of a fake radiographer who misrepresented her qualification to get employment and has been sentenced to 2,000 hours’ periodical imprisonment.
- Disciplinary action: You should also consider disciplinary action against the employee, with dismissal a distinct possibility in appropriate cases. Note that specific legal advice is essential here to get it right.
- Claim damages: You may well also have a claim against employees for any losses flowing from their fraud. For example, the High Court recently ordered an employee who had claimed to hold what turned out to be a fake degree to repay everything he had earned back to his employer – over R2.2m. Moreover, the Court authorised the employer to execute against the employee’s provident fund, and that’s really going to hurt the fraudster’s retirement plans. Note that pension and provident funds are normally protected from creditors but not from claims for “any damage caused to the employer by reason of any theft, dishonesty, fraud or misconduct”. As a final mark of its displeasure, the Court ordered the employee to pay costs on the punitive attorney and client scale.
Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.