Employee screening: a matter of life and death?

Dec 2, 2014

I’m not guilty. Those are the words of the man who has been charged with three counts of culpable homicide and one of reckless and negligent driving. Isaac Maruding was applying for bail in the Magistrates Court, after he was arrested when the truck he was driving, was involved in what is being described as one of Johannesburg’s worst ever car crashes. The N12 East accident saw the 18-wheeler vehicle plough into no less than 15 vehicles, three people lost their lives, and 16 others were seriously injured.

It has since emerged that the whole accident could have been avoided. Firstly, the truck’s brakes were found to be faulty. Secondly, the driver already has a shocking record of reckless and negligent driving. Upon hearing the truck driver’s criminal history, the owners of the truck company, who had previously provided him with an attorney, chose to withdraw their legal representation.

“I would argue however, that the truck owners still hold a great deal of responsibility in this regard,” says Jenny Reid Managing Director of iFacts. “Had a few simple background and criminal record checks been conducted prior to his employment, Isaac may never have been allowed to get behind the wheel of a vehicle again.”

According to the South African Road Federation (SARF), 43 people die on our roads each day. It added that 15% of road accidents are caused by road condition, 20% by vehicle condition and 70% through human behavioural factors.

“If human behaviour is the cause of most road accidents, then these incidents could be avoided. The importance of proficient employee checks and driver licence verifications cannot be overstated. In a case such as this, it can essentially mean the difference between life and death,” says Reid.

According to Reid, background screening and verification processes are becoming standard practice in many organisations around the world. “The reality is that no organisation can afford to risk potentially fraudulent employee documentation,” she says. “Researching employee history and stated capabilities is the only way to mitigate risk.”

Would you knowingly employ someone convicted of drunken driving as your company driver? Or a convicted fraudster as the company’s accountant? Or possibly the worst of all, a convicted sex offender as a school teacher?

The wolf in sheep’s clothing

In September this year a prominent Durban high school came under fire for unwittingly employing a convicted sex offender, but then failing to act after the man’s first victim notified the school’s management team.

“Although South African legislation provides measures to safeguard our children, more can be done to prevent convicted sex offenders from slipping through the cracks,” says Amelia Griesel, of CSI Africa, a Private Forensic Investigation Company.

According to media reports the drama teacher had already been convicted of in 2003 of sexual assault. He had then somehow managed to evade all the necessary regulatory checks, which would have had him struck from the South African Council for Educators (SACE), and was subsequently re-employed.

“While it remains unclear how said teacher managed to escape detection by the SACE disciplinary committee, the question arises whether more could be done to protect learners,” says Griesel. “Taking into account that major businesses, including financial organisations, law enforcement agencies and even small businesses, rely on background checks to maintain the integrity of their workforce, it must be asked why schools aren’t required to run periodic background checks on teachers to ensure that they remain suitable to work with children,” she added. “In terms of strategy, this could be another protective layer to help the SACE weed out unsuitable teachers, thereby providing more protection for learners.”

Legal bounds

But what of the legal implications when it comes to an individual’s  personal information? It’s all very well that organisation’s may want to protect the entity against potential criminals, but the average person has good reason to be sceptical of providing current and future employers of highly personal information for screening purposes, which may be lost or stolen – and used against the individual in future.

Not so says, Chris Hills of Fides Cloud Technologies, a company which provides an online authentication and storage solution for identity verification checks. Verification service providers are regulated by a privacy policy that sets out how the service provider uses and protects any information that you give them.

The verification / screening company must be compliant with the Protection of Personal Information Act, 2013 (the POPI Act) and the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act (the ECT Act).

Should we ask you to provide certain information by which you can be identified you can be assured that it will only be used in accordance with this privacy statement. “You may also be concerned about allowing your personal information and your biometric data to reside on a server in the cloud because you fear that this very identity could be misused,” says Hill “We addresses this issue by following best practices and stringent security guidelines for identity protection and ensuring it complies with all legislation and best practices for protection of personal information.”

Faking credentials

Reid asserts that employers do have a legal duty to make reasonable inquiries about who they hire and to provide a safe workplace for all. Conducting a criminal record check on potential employees you’re thinking about recruiting is just one way of doing that.

“We’ve also seen a deluge of fake qualification scandals, involving so-called high profile individuals, play out over the past year,” she says. “It’s almost seems as if it’s been overlooked that someone who has lied about their qualifications is due to receive a charge of fraud. This type of lie is indeed perjury – a criminal offense.”

Some of this year’s most high profile cases include: the discovery that Pallo Jordan, a former ANC stalwart as well as a former minister of arts and culture, minister of environmental affairs, and minister of posts, telecommunications and broadcasting – had never obtained a doctorate.

Hlaudi Motsoeneng, is still fighting a possible suspension being spearheaded by the DA after he was exposed for improper conduct, abuse of power and maladministration in a report by the Public Protector. The latest in this scandal, includes the emergence of a former SABC HR employee, who was allegedly offered R2 million if she agreed to testify that she knew nothing of his non-existent matric certificate.

In September, the DA exposed Ellen Tshabalala, an SABC board chairperson, after she was unable to produce her BCom and Post Graduate Degrees, from the University of South Africa (UNISA).

Another SABC HR officer has just pleaded guilty to fraud after being found with her hand in the biscuit tin. This sassy swindler managed to fake the signatures of more than 30 of her fellow colleagues, who were all meant to receive Kruger Rands from the SABC as rewards for long service. Rather than hand over the coins, she became a handwriting expert, signed for their receipt and sold the gold for cash.

Reid goes on to say that here’s even an entire underground industry, dedicated to supplying fake qualification documents.

The debate rages on about the validity of experience versus qualifications. No one is going to dispute that an employee who has spent many years in the trenches may be just as much, if not in some cases, even more competent than a fresh-faced graduate,” says Reid. “But that’s not really the point. An employer has every right to set the requirements of the position, to see the physical qualifications that an applicant claims to have, and every right to verify the authenticity of these documents. There’s just been far too much evidence of what can happen when, power gets into the wrong and woefully unqualified hands,” she adds.

Setting the Policy

The formulation of a screening policy starts when security professionals meet with Human Resources to discuss the needs of the company, identify areas of vulnerability, see what resources are available and agree on the required outcomes.

Who should be checked? What type of checks should be carried out? How many years should it cover? What criteria will be used in the process? Does it infringe on personal or legal enclaves? These, and more, should be part of the development of policy in South African businesses today.

Reid cautions that not all security checks are as exhaustive or reliable as clients may think. It is critical to work with security specialists who understand what security checks are relevant to a company’s employees or vendors.

On this note, don’t ignore partners in your company, temp or contract workers or consultants. Recent surveys in the US showed vendor employees are 92 % more likely to have a criminal record than permanent employees, according to security commentator Ron Lashier in a media report. This indirect workforce often slips through the security loophole.

How we measure up

PricewaterhouseCoopers released its annual Global Economic Crime Survey in February 2014. It exposed the shocking prevalence of economic crime, stating that companies in South Africa are hit by more fraud, bribery and corruption than their global counterparts.


  • Since 2011,the report states, the percentages have climbed. The survey reveals a profile of the typical fraudster lurking in senior and middle management. According to the report this individual is usually male, between the ages of 30 and 40, university educated and has been with an organisation for a long time. This fraudster, it says, commits more than 70% of all internal fraud.


  • The survey asserts that SA organisations took no legal action in almost 10% of cases, opted for transfers in 2% and issued warnings in just less than 20% of the cases.


  • South Africa has reported significantly high instances of procurement fraud, bribery and corruption, financial statement fraud and human resources fraud.


  • According to the report, Human Resources fraud stands at 42% in South Africa versus 15% globally.


It's only fair to share...Share on Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Share on LinkedIn
Email this to someone

contact us on info@ifacts.co.za for more information or come and visit us.