BY lvan lsraelstam, Chief Executive of Labour Law Management Consulting. He may be contacted on (011)888-7944 or 0828522973 or on e-mail address: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Go to:

HR professionals are often able to test job applicants for certain attributes necessary for some jobs. For instance the ability to read, write, type or operate a computer package can be tested by sitting the applicant down with a relevant task for an hour or so and assessing how well he/she carries it out.

However, in terms of qualities such as honesty, reference checking has always been the key screening technique. Unfortunately, many employers do not bother to check references or do not know how to set up and carry out proper reference checks. This frequently results in the HR professional taking the applicant’s word for it that he/she has the necessary abilities for the job. This often ends up in poor work performance, an angry employer and an even more angry CCMA commissioner if the employee gets fired unfairly.

However, even those professionals that have religiously and expertly carried out thorough reference checks are saddled with three problems, ...

namely South Africa’s Constitution, the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Code of Practice and the Employment Equity Act (EEA).

For example, in terms of section 14 of the Constitution, everyone has the right to privacy. HR practitioners may argue that the employee’s work performance in his job is not a private matter, but rather a business matter. This may be true in the employee’s current job but performance in a previous job could well be seen as private. The Constitution fails to provide clarity on this and the absence of any other clarificatory legislation means that employers need to be very careful in taking and giving employment references. A number of factors must prevail before an employer even considers embarking on a reference checking exercise:

· The job applicant must have given his/her consent to the reference


· The information given must be the truth.

· The referee must have a legitimate interest in giving the information.

· The potential employer must have a legitimate interest in receiving the


Most employers are vulnerable to employee dishonesty. When employing new staff it is important for the HR professional to make the right decision. Just one unscrupulous individual can do untold damage.

It is therefore vital, where handling of money or other vulnerable assets is an integral requirement of the job, that practitioners obtain expert advice in devising an applicant screening strategy which detects dishonest tendencies and which does not infringe the applicant’s constitutional and other legal rights.

In any communication with an individual, where the objective is to employ him or her, credentials can be omitted or exaggerated, and quite often are. In a competitive job market with high unemployment rates and uncertain social and economic trends, there is a marked increase in the preparation of fraudulent credentials among candidates in all sectors.

Various techniques for screening of honesty are available. For example:

  • A central register/database is used through which all subscribers mutually protect themselves by sharing information on individuals who could be potentially injurious to their business. By recording the details of such employees through information supplied by individual subscribers the system generates information for all subscribers as to which job applicants have been dismissed from previous positions for misconduct.
  • Criminal check: This establishes if the applicant has a criminal record.
  • Financial check: The applicant’s financial history is probed and the system ascertains whether he/she has any recorded judgements, bankruptcies, etc.
  • Fingerprint check: Computerised information from 1987 onwards can be obtained after the fingerprints supplied by the client are forwarded for verification.
  • Drivers licence check: Informs subscribers whether the job applicant has a valid driver’s licence.
  • Educational qualifications check: The service verifies any qualifications obtained by an applicant.
  • Character references & verification of previous employment: Previous employers are contacted on behalf of the subscriber to verify previous employment and experience and gathering information on the candidate’s previous work performance and conduct.
  • Written honesty tests and pre-employment polygraphs can assist in indicating whether a job candidate is telling the truth.

Due to the fact that it is very difficult to terminate the employment of unsuitable employees all HR practitioners and employment agencies need to use the above pre-screening systems in order to avoid hiring the wrong people.