In terms of clause 7.5 of the MIBCO Main Agreement, an employer is obliged to provide an employee with a certificate of service, upon termination of employment. The certificate of service only contains the full names of the employer and employee and other information pertaining to the nature of employment.
It is not untoward that a prospective employer contacts a previous or current employer in order to obtain detailed employment information of a job applicant when considering making an offer of employment. However, the certificate of service only assists in as far as confirming certain key pieces of information. It does not provide information such as whether the applicant would indeed be capable of performing the duties and responsibilities of the role in question or whether they would fit within a particular organisation culture of, for example, a high pressured environment.
In Van Niekerk v Minister of Labour and others (1996) 17 ILJ 525 (C) the court held that an individual has the right to a professional reputation. Should an employer deliberately provide a damaging character reference or one without foundation about a former employee, they are exposing themselves to liability in the form of a damages claim. The remedy in a successful claim for defamation is damages for loss of income or diminished reputation.
In a Nutshell: Employees have a right to a professional reputation. Employers, when providing references for former employees should ensure that they are not malicious by providing false character references, because in doing so they expose themselves to liability.
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