In times of recession, is it ok to “embellish” or “edit” your C.V.?

It can be very tempting for job applicants in difficult times to think about embellishing or “airbrushing” their c.v.s to make themselves stand out in a growing pool of job seekers.  However not everyone who lies on his or her c.v. will be as lucky as Apprentice winner Lee McQueen who won the show despite claiming he had spent two years at Thames University when, in fact, he had been there for only four months.  Possibly the reason he succeeded despite his economy with the truth was that he was not, in the end, chosen for the job on the basis of his qualifications.

Others have not been so lucky.  Alison Ryan lost her £125,000 a year job as a communications manager at Manchester United once it was discovered that she had not, as she had claimed, received a 1st class degree from Cambridge but had received a second class degree and had been struck off as a solicitor.   Ronald Zarella, the Chairman and Chief Executive of Bausch and Lomb, was not quite as unlucky but nevertheless found himself significantly worse off financially when it was discovered that he too had lied on his c.v.  He he had achieved his position by falsely claiming that he had received and MBA from the Stern School of Business at New York University.  When his lie was discovered he offered to resign following an “error of judgement” but luckily for him the Board backed him to continue.  He did, however, forfeit a bonus of more than £500,000.

If you are an employer who has discovered that an employee has put false information on his or her c.v. what recourse do you have?    False information on a c.v. is clearly a misrepresentation of the facts, however from a legal standpoint there are two types of misrepresentation:  negligent and fraudulent and the latter is arguably a lot more serious than the former – although that is not necessarily the case.  Take the following two examples:

John Smith is trying to get a job on a very popular graduate management training scheme with a well known company.  John knows that there will be a huge number of applicants and that the competition will be fierce.  He has a 2:1 degree in business studies from a new university but his A levels were pretty poor.  He therefore decides to embellish them changing his grades from CDD to ABB to increase his chances of being called to an interview.  John is shortlisted for interview and is ultimately offered the job.  Just after he has completed a year’s employment with the company, his manager discovers the truth about his grades.   The decision to enhance his grades was deliberate and fraudulent rather than negligent but the lie is probably not serious enough to warrant his dismissal unless the employer can show that the deception was so great as to completely break the duty of trust and confidence.   He got the degree he said he got from the university he said he went to.  He was therefore a graduate and was eligible for a graduate management training scheme. 

Contrast this with the following real case of Anthony v Governing Body of Hillcrest School:

Mr Anthony applied for a job as a history teacher and his c.v. stated that he had an MSc in European Studies.  He had attended the course but had not completed the 10,000 word dissertation.  His undergraduate degree had not been in history nor had it had any element of history in it.  In fact, the only relevant post-school studies Mr Anthony had ever undertaken which contained an element of history were the studies undertaken for the MSc he never completed.  Mr Anthony claimed that he had made an innocent mistake in failing to make it clear on his c.v. that he had not actually completed his MSc and the deception only came to light 2 years later.  However, had it not been for the fact that Mr Anthony had claimed that he had the MSc, he would not have been offered an interview, let alone the job and therefore his dismisssal was found to have been fair in all the circumstances.

His is a cautionary tale for candidates, but employers would also be advised to ensure that they make all such checks as may be necessary to ensure the veracity of the applications that are submitted.



About Belinda Lester
I am the managing director and founder of Lionshead Law, a boutique virtual law firm specialising in employment, immigration, commercial and IP law.

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