How to deal with employees lying about their qualifications

How to deal with employees lying about their qualifications

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Author: Helen Burgess

A recent survey found that the embellishment or invention of qualifications and experience is becoming more common as candidates face increased competition for jobs.

We look at the legal implications and how employers can guard against being misled.

What is the issue?

CV fraud describes the provision of fictitious, exaggerated or misleading information during the application process with the intention to persuade an employer to recruit the applicant for a job for which they are not qualified, or not as qualified as other applicants, to perform. It can include a whole spectrum of inaccuracies including dates of previous employment, responsibilities, professional qualifications and academic achievements.

According to figures released by Higher Education Degree Datacheck 31% of graduates knew someone who had lied about their qualifications on their CV and 37% considered it common practice.

Employers who fail to have adequate safeguards in place risk exposing their business to dishonest and under-qualified staff. The implications could be particularly serious in professions where certain qualifications are a regulatory pre-requisite of the position, such as in the medical or financially-regulated industries. This is illustrated by the case of barrister Dennis O'Riordan who was dismissed from his top city law firm last October and barred from practice after falsely claiming degrees from Harvard and Oxford. In truth he was a qualified barrister with a degree from the University of East Anglia. His exposure came about by pure chance and not as a result of any routine checks carried out by the firm.

Pre-employment

Lies that are uncovered before an offer of employment is accepted should entitle the employer to revoke the offer. However, employers should be mindful that disgruntled applicants might claim that the employer's reason was discriminatory. To guard against this, employers should keep clear, written records of their reason for withdrawing the offer.

Gross misconduct

Lying on a CV is likely to breach the implied duty of trust and confidence between the employer and employee and therefore an employer will be able to dismiss an employee for lying. Particularly serious lies might also amount to gross misconduct entitling the employer to dismiss immediately without notice. Whether the lie is sufficient for dismissal will depend on the facts of the case and employers should deal with each situation on a case by case basis. However, it is advisable that employers clearly set out on any application form, offer or contract of employment the consequences for the employee should information provided prove to be false.

Care should be taken where the deceit comes to light some years into the employment relationship. Employees who have at least two years' continuous employment are eligible to bring an unfair dismissal claim. Any dismissal must fall within the range of reasonable responses and this may be harder to establish for longstanding employees who have proven themselves to be competent in the role or where the non disclosure has no bearing on the employee's ability. In a recent case an employer who dismissed an employee for failing to disclose the fact that she had brought tribunal proceedings against an old employer was found to have acted unfairly. The judge said that the decision constituted victimisation and that it was 'emotionally driven'.

The Fraud Act 2006

Depending on the precise facts of the case such conduct may also amount to a criminal offence. Making a statement knowing it to be false and intending by making it to obtain employment is a criminal offence under the Fraud Act 2006. Accordingly, it is punishable by up to 10 years' imprisonment and/or a fine.

In 2010 Rhiannon McKay became the first woman to be convicted of CV fraud when she was sentenced to six months' imprisonment. Ms McKay falsely claimed to have two A-levels and also forged a letter of recommendation. Her offences were only brought to light when the company investigated her experience following a period of poor performance. In addition, Kerrie Devine, an HR manager, was given a suspended prison sentence after she gave false qualifications in her re-application to her post after a reorganisation. Ms Devine falsely claimed to hold a degree and be part way through a CIPD course. Ms Devine was also ordered to pay £9,600 in compensation and carry out 150 hours of community service.

The Fraud Act does not apply in Scotland where the equivalents are the common law offences of fraud - achieving a practical result by means of false pretence - and uttering - the act of tendering a forged document as genuine.

Learning points

Evidently the embellishment of professional qualifications and experience is a real and profound risk for employers. Businesses who fail to verify applicants' experience are putting themselves at risk. However, there are some simple, low cost and effective ways of minimising this risk:

  • make it clear in the offer letter that the offer is conditional on verification of their qualifications and that it may be withdrawn if any misrepresentation comes to light
  • ensure that employees are aware that misrepresenting their professional qualifications will be deemed gross misconduct and clarify this in both the contract of employment and staff handbook
  • always verify qualifications, particularly for highly skilled positions. The most effective way of doing this is via the government backed scheme which can verify both whether UK university or college is or has been recognised as a degree-awarding body by the UK government and the degree qualifications of graduates from UK universities
  • do not assume that older employees will have had their qualifications verified by a previous employer - checks should be undertaken on all candidates
  • carry out ongoing checks on existing employees - changes to contractual terms can provide a good opportunity to establish the accuracy of employees' qualifications
  • if you suspect an applicant has lied you should seek legal advice immediately. If they have received money on the basis of their lie, or have used forged documents, this may also be a matter for the police.

About the author

contact photo

Helen Burgess

Partner

03700 86 5028

Helen heads the employment team in Nottingham and is well-versed in the specialist area of employment / labour law, advising HR professionals, in-house counsel, directors and managers on human resource and employment law issues. She has particular experience of TUPE advice, tribunals, business immigration, collective and union issues, whistle blowing, settlement agreements & terminations and executive appointment & exits.

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