At the final interview stage of this year’s “The Apprentice”, Lee McQueen lied about the length of time that he had spent at University on his CV, claiming that he had spent two full years there, and then continued to lie about this when pressed during interview. When caught in the act he claimed that “it must be four months if you say it is” and when pressed further by Sir Alan Sugar in the final stages, he expressed his regret and qualified his actions as being a form of miscommunication and of embarrassment about his lack of university education. It was later suggested during The Apprentice that in fact many people lie on their CV’s. But is this really true? Is lying on CV’s a growing problem in a competitive job market?

To ensure that employees who lie on their CV are caught in the act, employers should ensure that all academic qualifications are checked with the relevant awarding educational body and that all referees are contacted to verify the information given by the prospective employee and to confirm the nature and content of the reference that the referee has given, whether based on the employee’s previous employment history or otherwise.

In addition to this, all job offers should be made conditional upon receipt of at least one reference by the employer which is, in the employer’s option, satisfactory, and on other background checks being completed, such as the employee’s right to work in the United Kingdom. Where an offer of employment is not made conditional upon receipt of satisfactory references and an unsatisfactory reference is received then, if the offer has already been accepted by the employee, the offer cannot be unilaterally withdrawn without resulting in a breach of the employee’s contract of employment. In this event, the employer would have to give notice to terminate the contract of employment and would be liable for the payment of notice monies due under the contract. Verifying an employee’s qualifications and skills can seem like a lot of additional work, but it is essential to good recruitment practice.

The consequences of getting these initial recruitment processes wrong could turn out to be very expensive, in terms of cost and reputation!

Where an employer discovers that a prospective employee has lied on his CV (or otherwise through the recruitment process) prior to the commencement of the employment relationship and before any offer is made, the employer will have the opportunity to refuse that person’s application. This, of course, is subject to the refusal being free from any form of discrimination. In such cases of refusal, the employer must inform that person that they have been unsuccessful in their application and, if possible, the reasons for this.

But what happens if it is not until some later point in the employment relationship that it is discovered that an employee lied during the recruitment process, on his/her CV or otherwise? The answer to this will vary in each particular case. In cases where the individual has worked for the employer for a considerable length of time and has developed a level of trust and confidence with the employer, it may be difficult for the employer to establish that that trust and confidence has been destroyed by virtue of earlier lies on his/her CV (particularly if these have taken place years before). In this case, it may be advisable to speak to the employee concerned to make him/her aware of your concerns, to ask him/her for an explanation and to make him/her aware that honesty and integrity is important to the business and to the employer/employee relationship. In cases where the effect of the lie is such that it may genuinely bring the employer’s business into disrepute or undermine the relationship of trust and confidence due to its severity, the employer should consider whether or not disciplinary action (and possibly dismissal) is appropriate and reasonable, and if so, it should ensure that it complies with the current statutory disciplinary/dismissal procedures and an otherwise fair process.

In terms of giving employee references, employers should take care in drafting such references. There is always the potential for claims of discrimination, defamation, malicious falsehood and negligent misstatement to be made as a result of a reference. In respect of the latter, it must be remembered that when giving a reference the employer owes a duty to take reasonable care in the preparation of the reference. Where a false or misleading reference is made, and that reference induces a third party employer to enter into a contractual relationship with the employee concerned, and that third party employer suffers loss as a result, the employer giving the reference runs the risk of being held liable for that loss.

While there is no general duty on the majority of employers to provide a reference, if one is given careful consideration should be given to the accuracy and content of all references. The reference given must be fair, accurate and not misleading in its content or overall impression. It is therefore advisable for employers to give factual references only. Employers should also adopt a consistent policy when providing references so as to reduce the risk of discrimination and/or victimization claims arising from employees who are not provided with a reference.