Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
The answer it seems for many, is no. Research suggests that many job applicants tell, what they believe to be, a little white lie to embellish their CV without considering the consequences.
These seemingly harmless actions can have far reaching and damaging consequences for both the employee and for the employer that makes a recruitment decision based on false or inflated information.
Where’s the harm?
The seriousness of the issue was brought into sharp relief recently with the sentencing of a former senior manager within the NHS. Peter Knight falsely claimed to have a Classics degree and secured a senior role in IT on a salary of £130,000 a year. His lie wasn’t picked up during the recruitment process and only came to light some time later following an anonymous tip off. He resigned, but, by that stage had worked in the role for two years.
His employers contacted the police. Mr Knight was charged with fraud, pleaded guilty and was given a two year suspended jail sentence. There will be a further hearing later this year to consider his proceeds of crime, which amount to more than £250,000 (approximately two years salary).
The case was widely reported in the media, causing embarrassment for all involved.
What can employers learn from this?
If you don't check what candidates say about their qualifications and previous experience you will bear the consequences. This is particularly important where the candidates, if appointed, will be working with children or vulnerable adults.
You must make reasonable efforts to properly vet candidates (and that process must be proportionate to the potential risks posed considering the specific role in question). You don't necessarily have to take original copies of qualifications from every single applicant, but asking for original copies of the highest certificates from shortlisted applicants and verifying them at the time of recruitment is advisable.
Remember: even if you need to carry out criminal record checks with the Disclosure and Barring Service, those checks are unlikely to pick up on lies in a candidate’s CV or application form.
What can you do if you find out someone has lied on their CV?
Breach of Contract
All employment contracts contain an implied (unwritten) term of mutual trust and confidence between employer and employee. This is fundamental to the relationship and binding on both parties. Lying on a CV and failing to disclose that lie is likely to amount to a repudiatory breach of this term and give you the right to dismiss them without notice.
Where the employee has worked continuously for more than two years, the decision will need to be reasonable (taking account, for example, of the seriousness of the lie) and a fair procedure should be followed. In most cases this will involve following your disciplinary procedure.
We recommend that you make your offers of employment and employment contracts conditional on satisfactory references and verification of qualifications. This will mean that you will not be in breach of contract if the applicant’s qualifications or work history prove to be unsatisfactory or incorrect. Where an offer is withdrawn, it is important to keep a detailed record of the reason for withdrawing the offer to reduce the risk of a successful discrimination claim.
Misrepresentation arises where an inaccurate statement of fact is made which induces an employer to enter into the contract of employment. The statement must be of fact and therefore an opinion such as “works well under pressure” will not amount to misrepresentation if a candidate then fails to live up to this opinion.
Where the applicant has deliberately misrepresented the facts, the contract becomes voidable, meaning that you can choose to treat the contract as invalid. If the misrepresentation was a material factor in inducing you to offer the candidate the job, you may also be entitled to compensation.
Misrepresentation would also be a sufficient reason for a misconduct or “some other substantial reason” dismissal under the Employment Rights Act in cases where the lie was sufficiently material to the job in question.
As Mr Knight found out to his cost, there could even be criminal consequences for candidates, as lying on a CV could amount to a criminal offence of fraud under the Fraud Act 2006. The maximum penalty for this offence is 10 years in prison. Most cases involving lying on a CV are likely to result in much shorter sentences taking into account the level of deception, any gain made and harm caused.
Unless sufficiently serious or where the fraud involves public funds, the police are unlikely to get involved in cases of false misrepresentation in a CV.
Need more information?
Please contact our employment partner Kirsty Ayre if you need help dismissing someone who has lied about their experience or qualifications.