The new National Qualifications Framework Amendment Act 2019, recently signed by President Cyril Ramaphosa, means prospective students or job seekers could face up to five years in jail for misrepresenting their qualifications.
But what exactly does the new law entail? What are the implications for employers? Can you be held accountable if you know someone who has lied about their credentials and you don't report them? And what constitutes lying, anyway? Fin24 has you covered.
1. The law doesn't just apply to job applications – you'll need to 'fess up on social media, too.
Under the new law, lying about your qualifications on platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter could also lead to jail time.
Qaqamba Moeletsi, legal consultant for Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr's employment practice, says this is because under the NQF Amendment Act, it is an offence for any person to falsely or fraudulently claim to hold a qualification that is registered on the NQF or awarded by a recognised and accredited institution. This means even if you're posting it on your social media account, it's considered an offence – and if convicted in a court of law, the offender could face a fine and imprisonment of up to five years, or both.
2. The law also impacts employers and education institutions – and they may have to cough up for verifications.
Before appointing and registering any individual, employers, education institutions, skills development providers and Quality Councils must verify whether the qualifications or part qualifications of such person are registered on the national learners' records database, says Moeletsi.
"If the qualification is not registered, it must be referred to the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) for verification. The verification will be conducted by SAQA for a prescribed fee."
3. If you are qualified, but it turns out you're not on the register, you can challenge the finding.
SAQA is required to inform the person making the enquiry and the holder of the qualification or part qualification about its findings, explains Moeletsi.
The holder of the qualification(s) has an opportunity to challenge the findings.
In addition, the verification and evaluation is subject to the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act. "As such, the findings may be taken on review before a competent court," says Moeletsi.
4. If you are caught lying about your credentials, however, you'll be recorded in SAQA's register - and that's serious.
SAQA will maintain a register of misrepresented and fraudulent qualifications and professional designations, says Moeletsi.
It is also considered an offence to enter false information into the register, so if your name is captured on the register, it will be taken seriously.
5. Authorities aren't just cracking the whip, however – the law is also designed to protect you from bogus institutions.
While the law clamps down on individuals who misrepresent their qualifications, there are also severe consequences for education institutions or education skills providers who falsely claim to be registered or accredited, or offer qualifications not registered on the NQF, says Moeletsi. Penalties include a fine or up to five years' jail time.
6. There's a clear line between showing yourself in the best possible light, and deliberate misrepresentation.
While social media profiles, CVs and job applications are an opportunity to focus on what you bring to the table, there is a clear line between emphasising your positive attributes and inventing them, says Moeletsi.
"When a candidate deliberately indicates that they have a qualification when in fact they don’t, this constitutes misrepresentation which is punishable by law. Misrepresentation is usually intended to induce the recipient to appoint the specific person under a false pretext."
7. While the law is strict, there are some exceptions where individuals might avoid prosecution.
If you did a qualification in good faith, believing it was legitimate, you can present this information as a defence if you are charged for contravening the NQF Amendment Act, says Moeletsi. If it is accepted, your defence may lead to an acquittal, and the relevant institution might be charged and be liable to a fine and criminal conviction.
Additionally, if you know of someone who has lied about their qualifications, assuming it is not in the circumstances outlined above, you will not face legal consequences if you do not report them, says Moeletsi.