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On 1 July 2020, the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013 (POPIA) came into effect, placing several obligations on employers in terms of managing employees personal information; it also gives certain rights to privacy to employees. Employers need to be fully complaint with POPIA by 30 June 2021. Non-compliance can result in significant penalties – up to 10 years’ imprisonment and/or R 10 million in administrative fines.

We set out below – the key things you ought to know as an employer.

POPIA applies to personal information and special personal information that is subject to processing or further processing. Processing encompasses a wide range of activities including the initial obtaining of personal information and the use and retention of that information as well as access, disclosure and final disposal of that information.

From an employment perspective, POPIA applies to:

  • Information such as identity numbers, contact details, employment history, psychometric assessment results, references, qualifications, disciplinary records, union membership, grievances, health and biometric information; and
  • The full life cycle of the employment relationship – from recruitment to post termination and continues to apply for five years after the relationship has ended (and still applies where the employer is approached as a reference).

Employers must therefore ensure that they lawfully process the personal information of job applicants, employees, retired employees and dismissed employees. To the extent that employers process personal information of independent contractors and other service providers, they must also ensure that they lawfully process such information.

POPIA prohibits processing of special personal information, which includes information on race, health, criminal behaviour and trade union membership unless:

  • an employer obtains express consent to do so from the relevant employee; or
  • the information is required by law –(legal necessity); or
  • the information is for historical, statistical or research purposes; or
  • the information was deliberately made public by the data subject.


Employers will need to ensure that they follow the steps listed above to limit the risk of employees processing information unlawfully and in contravention of POPIA.

Employers should bear this section in mind as it creates significant legal risk for employers if employees do not process information lawfully and in compliance with POPIA.

Contact our team to assist your business in implementing POPIA and ensuring full compliance.