Stretching the truth: what to do when an applicant lies on their CV

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal have recently banned a solicitor from practice for 18 months following her revelation that she had ‘upgraded’ her…

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal have recently banned a solicitor from practice for 18 months following her revelation that she had ‘upgraded’ her 2:2 degree to a 2:1 on her application form in order to try and secure an interview with the Army Legal Service.

We consider what steps you can take to properly vet the qualifications of potential employees and what you can do if you have been misled by false information on an application form.

Should job offers always be made subject to proof of the necessary qualifications?

Where a job offer is partly based on the level of qualifications someone has, it is recommended that you obtain proof before the individual starts work and that you specifically state in the offer letter that the offer is made subject to receiving proof of these qualifications. You should check your vetting procedures and request the proof of qualifications at the same time as you ask for other key pre-employment paperwork such as DBS certificates and documents showing that the individual has the right to work in the UK.

It might go without saying, but once you have obtained proof of qualifications you should double check this against the information provided on the application form or within the CV.

What should you do if a job applicant has lied about their qualifications on an application form?

In the first instance you should investigate the issues. This is likely to involve asking the individual to explain the discrepancy. Where it is clear that they have been dishonest it will be fairly low risk simply to withdraw the job offer, giving reasons. It will be important to keep a record of these reasons in case the individual claims that the withdrawal of the offer was for a discriminatory reason.

There may also be regulatory considerations depending on your industry. For example, as in this case, if the role is within a law firm the employer may wish to refer the individual to the Solicitors Regulation Authority. However, a reasonable level of investigation should be carried out first.

What if you only find out about the dishonesty after the employee has started working for you?

Information on a CV or job application that is clearly fabricated is likely to indicate that the individual has deliberately misled you. Such dishonesty, particularly where it involves fundamental information such as degree classification or professional qualifications, is likely to be appropriately classed as gross misconduct and will also be a breach of the duty of trust and confidence. It could therefore allow you to dismiss the individual fairly. The individual would not normally be entitled to any notice or pay in lieu of notice if they were found to have committed an act of gross misconduct.

However, there is arguably a fine line between someone describing their previous experience in a favourable light and clearly falsifying information on a job application. Whether or not dismissal might be warranted in a particular case will depend on the specific facts. A decision to dismiss may be less defensible where the embellishment is minor and it does not relate to a key requirement for the post, particularly if the individual has been carrying out the role competently for some time.

In any event, you should still follow a fair employment procedure which will include a reasonable investigation and a hearing. This is particularly important if the employee has over two years’ continuous service as they will be able to bring a meritorious unfair dismissal claim if a fair process is not followed.

Miriam Guilding is a Solicitor in the Manchester Employment, Pensions and Immigration Team. If you have any questions please get in touch with Miriam (miriam.guiding@weightmans.com) or speak to your usual Weightmans contact.

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