Can you fire an employee for lying on their CV?

  • Disciplinary
Kate Palmer FCIPD - Director of HR Advice and Consultancy at global employment law consultancy, Peninsula.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director

(Last updated )

Remember the film ‘Catch Me If You Can’? If you haven’t watched it, it’s about a real-life conman called Frank Abagnale Jr., who tricks people into believing he’s a doctor, lawyer and pilot—all before his 18th birthday. He manages to forge $2.8 million worth of cheques before the FBI finally catch him. While few people go to such extreme lengths to earn a living, the competitive nature of the job market leads some candidates to exaggerate parts of their CV to give themselves an edge, adding qualifications and experience they don’t have. So what do you do if you hire someone but then find out they lied? It depends on how big the lie was, how quickly you discovered it, and how much it impacts your business. 

White lies vs big lies 

Let’s say you find out your fibbing employee worked at a previous company for two years and nine months and not three years. Or that he graduated 10 years ago with a 2:2 in business administration and not a 2:1. It’s probably OK to look past little white lies like these, although you should keep an eye out for bigger lies down the line. But if the candidate never even worked at the previous company, or never set foot inside a university, this is a serious breach of trust between you and your employee. You’d be well within your rights to dismiss him. 

How lies damage your business 

Lying about qualifications is especially serious in industries like healthcare, engineering and construction. When an employee in one of these sectors says she has a particular qualification and it turns out she doesn’t, she could be putting her colleagues, your customers and the general public in danger. And even if health & safety isn’t an issue, a dishonest employee could damage the reputation of your company. Imagine you have an important client who knows his stuff and spots that your employee is winging it. How would that reflect on your business? If you do decide to dismiss, a word of warning: the longer your employee has been working for you, the harder it will be to justify the dismissal as fair. Let’s say an employee has been with you for three years before you discover he lied. When you confront him, he could argue that he’s good at his job, and his dodgy CV doesn’t affect his ability to perform his duties. 

Carry out thorough checks 

The best way to avoid this kind of hassle is to check a candidate’s qualifications before you hire them. Ask them for copies of certificates, and get contact details of previous employers so you can make sure they’re telling the truth about their experience. Verifying a candidate’s qualifications should be a logical thing to do, but recent figures released by the Higher Education Degree Datacheck show only 20% of UK employers run thorough checks on qualifications. To make matters worse, it’s easier than ever to buy a fake degree online. Finally, make all your job offers conditional on receiving satisfactory references and a green light from your background checks. By following these simple steps, you’ll be protecting yourself from tricksters like Frank Abagnale.

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