Author: Howard Levitt
Publication: National Post
Nothing is more elastic than the ethical permutations of job applicants.
In 1993, Patrick Lafferty had a big problem. A partner in Coopers & Lybrand’s Ottawa office, he had met Dr. Richard Clark four years earlier. Impressed with Clark’s knowledge and experience, he persuaded him to join Coopers and resuscitate its dormant IT consulting division. Clark had been in the business for 29 years and, given his credentials and contacts, Coopers considered his hiring a coup. During the next four years, Clark exceeded all expectations and his department grew dramatically. Clark was unanimously recommended for partnership.
When the partnership checked the credentials and Clark was asked for proof of his PhD, he claimed his documents were in storage. The firm contacted the University of Illinois. It had no record of a Richard Clark.
Clark then claimed the degree was an honourary one. When the partners continued to press for proof even of that, Clark withdrew his application for partnership. He believed that by doing so, the issue of his qualifications would also be withdrawn. Unfortunately for him, that was not the case. Ultimately, the partners concluded Clark’s credentials were false and terminated his contract.
Justice Chadwick of the Ontario Superior Court concluded that Clark could not benefit from his fraud. Not only was he denied severance, he could not even recover his earned bonus. If Clark had told the truth, he would neither have been hired nor received his generous compensation package with the bonus entitlement. Worse, Clark was required to reimburse Coopers $47,000 for the proposals it lost as result of his departure and for the cost of premises in Ottawa to house the partner that Coopers flew in to replace him.
Not all pre-employment fibs relate to qualifications.
Alain Cornell lied to Rogers Cable, claiming he was applying for a job with it because his existing employer was transferring him to Vancouver and he preferred to remain in Brantford, Ont. The truth was he had already been laid off. Rogers fired him for a different reason. But when that lie was uncovered by me just before trial, three years after his dismissal, the court held that it was cause for Cornell’s dismissal.
A Stanford study found that most applicants use misleading resumes. Sometimes, the “spins” are mere window-dressing. Others are more substantive, claiming experience that the applicant never had. Not all such lies are cause for dismissal. But if the employer can establish that it would not have hired the employee had the truth been disclosed, they are cause for dismissal regardless of whether the employee worked out in the new role. Once the employer learns of the fraud, it must dismiss the employee right away. What should employers do?
1. Ensure that your application form requires candidates to list all of their relevant experience, skills and qualifications;
2. Note on the form that all misrepresentations will be cause for discharge;
3. Conduct rigorous background checks;
4. If you suspect that an employee has lied during the recruitment process, immediately investigate and act upon it.