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Not everyone applying for a new job has left the previous employer on good terms. How many details of the applicant’s employment history should be disclosed to the prospective employer? It often happens that somebody is appointed and problems with previous employers emerge only some time after that person’s appointment. How does the employer deal with the situation? The answers to these questions are not always straightforward.

In the case of Van Schalkwyk vs Edgars the applicant was appointed as a department manager at one of Edgar's stores. It subsequently came to light that he had previously been employed by Edgars for a period of approximately sixteen months. He had apparently resigned in circumstances where there had been an "informal" investigation into his alleged dishonesty. In his CV he failed to disclose the fact that he had previously been employed by Edgars. He also failed to mention it on the job application form requiring him to disclose his employment history. During the job interview he was specifically asked where he had worked in the past. He once again failed to mention his previous employment with Edgars. A disciplinary hearing was held and he was dismissed for providing misleading information during the interview process. The employee disputed the fairness of his dismissal and referred the matter to the CCMA.

During the arbitration proceedings at the CCMA, the employee alleged that he had compiled his CV hastily and that he had regarded the completion of the job application form as "only a formality". He said that that he had not deemed it necessary to mention his previous employment with Edgars during the interview because he had previously mentioned this fact to certain managers.

The CCMA commissioner in the arbitration hearing regarded his explanations as being "most unconvincing and implausible". In the commissioner's view the employee did not have an honest explanation for providing the employer with what he regarded as patently misleading information. The employee had in all likelihood acted this way because he did not want to alert the employer to the fact that he had resigned under a cloud of investigations concerning his alleged dishonesty. The commissioner concluded that the conduct of the employee had been dishonest and that the decision to dismiss had been fair.

Not all cases are this simple. There are presumably many cases where, unless specifically required, an employee would be quite justified for withholding certain details of unpleasantness in prior employment. Although there is clearly a duty of good faith, the fact that it subsequently emerges that an employee left previous employment due to misconduct, is not always a basis for disciplinary action if the question never arose during the recruitment process.

From a job applicant's point of view the case referred to above illustrates the importance of one of the most fundamental obligations of the employee in an employment relationship, namely the obligation of good faith. From an employer’s perspective the case demonstrates how useful certain recruitment procedures can be, particularly a form requiring the job applicant to make certain disclosures, such as employment history, qualifications and other relevant and important information.

Jan Truter of is an on-line labour relations service aimed at assisting employers with the implementation of effective labour relations. They can be contacted via the website or

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