Lying on your resumé isn’t always sure fire cause for firing
By Howard Levitt
It’s commonplace for job candidates to overstate their qualifications on their resumés as they seek an advantage in the job market. The employer’s problem is that, in addition to hiring a dishonest employee (and few are dishonest in only one respect), these employees are often ill-suited or lack the skills to perform the job they acquired through deception.
Employers often ask what recourse they have in these situations. Traditionally, an employee hired based on false credentials may be fired for just cause. This principle was affirmed in a case from Ontario highest court, where an employer’s decision to terminate an employee for falsifying academic qualifications on his resumé was unanimously upheld.
In that case, Richard Clark lied on his resumé when applying for a consulting position at Coopers & Lybrand Consulting Groups by falsely including a doctorate among his qualifications. A few years later, when Clark was in the running to becoming a partner, Coopers contacted the University of Illinois to confirm his academic qualifications. The University had no record of Clark ever being enrolled, let alone receiving a degree, and Coopers fired Clark as result.
The court sided with Coopers, concluding that Clark’s deception was the reason for his hiring, and dismissed Clark’s wrongful dismissal claim. The court also awarded Coopers damages for expenses incurred in replacing Clark and for lost business as a result of his dishonesty.
But employers should not jump precipitously when it finds an employee whose resumé does not match reality, particularly in light of a recent case in British Columbia.
Jazz Forest Products posted an online ad for a lumber sales representative. David Lura replied, indicating he was operating his own lumber business, which was in the process of being wound down. In reality, Lura’s business was wound down years before and he had been working in unrelated industries, as a truck driver, in a nursery and as a security guard.
Jazz hired Lura on the strength of his resumé. Lura performed poorly failing to make a single sale. Jazz fired him for just cause after uncovering his fictitious credentials.
Lura filed a claim for wrongful dismissal. The court agreed with Lura concluding that, although he was not forthright about his experience and he was hired based on his qualifications, his dismissal for just cause was excessive. Because Lura had worked in the lumber industry and had only been out of that business for a few years, his dishonesty was not severe enough to warrant his dismissal for just cause, the court said.
This case seems to follow an earlier British Columbia Court of Appeal decision where an employee, Frank Islip, lied about his previous salary to his prospective employer, Coldmatic Refrigeration, when negotiating his compensation for a new job. Islip was fired when Coldmatic learned he had been untruthful.
In that case, the court stated that, although Islip had lied to Coldmatic, they would have hired him anyway, thus his dishonesty was not sufficiently severe to warrant his immediate dismissal without notice.
Employers should be vigilant when screening candidates and follow up with references with previous employers. If not, they may be saddled with incompetent employees who have lied to obtain their positions. What’s worse they may now be faced with greater obstacles when trying to fire them upon discovery.