As the controversy over Andrea Leadsom’s alleged exaggeration of her City experience showed, a misleading résumé can be damaging.
Andrea Leadsom was a Conservative Party leadership contender
CVs tend to put a favourable gloss on candidates: a Friday night takeaway and Netflix habit morphs into an interest in fine dining and theatre, the ability to order a cold Cruzcampo becomes fluent Spanish and the job they walked out of after a week is omitted altogether. It’s alarmingly common: research suggests that two thirds of CVs contain false information. In many cases, the “positive spin” is never discovered.
But as the controversy over Andrea Leadsom’s alleged exaggeration of her City experience illustrates, a misleading CV can seriously undermine trust. What can employers do when they find out a candidate has misrepresented their qualifications or experience?
Much depends on when the lie is uncovered. If the employee has not yet started work, the business has the option of withdrawing the offer. As the employee will not have two years’ service, they cannot bring an unfair dismissal claim and so the legal risks for the business are limited.
If the employee had already accepted the offer before its retraction, the employee could theoretically bring proceedings for breach of contract and claim their notice pay as damages. However, in practice such claims are rare. One reason is that most contracts specify a shorter notice period during probation anyway. Another is that many employers make job offers conditional on verifying qualifications and references. This is particularly so in regulated sectors such as financial services, where offers are often also conditional on regulatory approval (which may well not be forthcoming if an individual has been dishonest). Dishonest candidates often don’t wish to publicise the fact by litigating.
However, a risk of withdrawing an offer in this way is that the employee might allege that the real reason for withdrawal was discriminatory (eg, discovering that the employee was pregnant). Businesses should therefore ensure that the reason for withdrawal is carefully documented.
Likewise, a business that discovers such a misrepresentation early in the individual’s employment can generally dismiss the employee with few risks.
The picture becomes more nuanced and the risks increase if the employee has the two years’ service necessary to bring an unfair dismissal claim. Whether it is fair to dismiss in such cases is fact-sensitive. The lie may make it impossible for the employee to do their job, or may so undermine the employer’s trust that dismissal is regarded as fair, particularly in sectors such as financial services and healthcare where dishonesty has regulatory implications for the individual and employer.
Discovering, however, that a long-serving employee’s GCSE grades were lower than claimed, for example, may not always justify dismissal where the individual has not underperformed.
In each case, documenting the rationale is crucial to defending any unfair dismissal or discrimination claims. A 2013 case illustrates the risks: an employee dismissed by Commerzbank for not disclosing her discrimination claim against her previous employer successfully sued Commerzbank for victimisation. Employers need to consider the business impact of any dishonesty or lack of disclosure carefully and dispassionately to avoid falling foul of the law.
Prevention is undoubtedly better than cure. Businesses and political parties alike should check a candidate’s qualifications and experience before taking the plunge.
Alexandra Mizzi is a senior associate in the employment team at Howard Kennedy