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Writing a CV: a little white lie can’t hurt anybody, or can it?

May 16, 2012

Have you ever told a lie on your CV?  If so, you will have your reasons – maybe you think that everybody does it, that you’ll never be caught or that you deserve the embellishment.  In fact in the current job market a failure to have the best qualifications could see you missing out on many opportunities.   I recently heard of a City trader who took up a graduate job despite never having been to university.  He was later dismissed for poor performance (along with several actual graduates) and at their leaving drinks he felt comfortable enough to let the cat out of the bag.  In that case, he was right in thinking that he would get away with it and no doubt saved himself a fortune in student loan repayments!   The problem arose again this week when Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson resigned after it came to light that he had falsely claimed to have a degree in computer science.  Ill health is also being reported as the reason for his decision but his false claims throw up an interesting question.  He is not the first and he won’t be the last but how can this impact upon employers?   Businesses can protect themselves in a number of ways.  The starting point has to be to make any offer of employment conditional upon satisfactory references or sight of the required qualifications.  Most employers will carry out some kind of background checks, especially if it's a senior role or requires clearance from the Criminal Records Bureau.  Thanks to the internet, a great deal of information can be accessed almost instantly – although you should be careful that your decision to recruit is not influenced by “protected” factors such as race, age or sexual orientation which can often be ascertained from social media sites.   Employment contracts should also contain an express term that the new recruit has the requisite qualifications and the right to work in the UK.  The latter has been of increasing importance in recent years as the penalties for employing illegal immigrants have been toughened.   A contractual probationary period will allow the business to assess the employee’s suitability for the job but what if the lies come to light further down the line?  Many businesses may chose to turn a blind eye if it is not damaging to profits or reputation.  Indeed, Yahoo would have hired Thompson for his performance in the industry over the past five or ten years – and not what he did when he was in his early twenties, so he was clearly no less capable of doing the job.  However in the UK dishonesty is clearly capable of amounting to gross misconduct, which could warrant summary dismissal provided that the correct disciplinary procedures have been followed.  If the deception has harmed the company’s reputation then the business will have a stronger reason for letting that person go.  At Yahoo this certainly appeared to be the case as one senior executive was reported as saying “Thompson has quickly lost the confidence of many employees, who think he has to go…a lot of people are saying “How can Yahoo let this happen?””   It is worth noting that Thompson had been with the company for less than two years and so under current UK law he would not have acquired the protection against unfair dismissal.  This makes it relatively easy for a UK employer to dismiss unsuitable (or dishonest) employees within the first 24 months of the relationship.   If you think that one of your employees has been less than truthful when writing their CV, please speak to one of our specialist employment lawyers.