Unless you are lucky enough to live in SoCal or the Sunshine State, you likely have been hit with below-zero wind chills, freezing rain, and/or snowstorms. During the bitter cold months of winter, watching old episodes of Below Deck Mediterranean (or, as the cool kids say, Below Deck Med) reminds me that sunnier, warmer days are ahead. A recent episode provides an interesting lesson on an activity that can quickly sink any employee’s career—resume fudging.

A Friend Made Me Do It

If you are not familiar with Below Deck Med, it’s an American reality television series on Bravo that follows the lives of crew members who reside on a mega-yacht Talisman Maiton, which you can rent for a mere $273,000/week and sail guests around the waters of Italy. In Season 3, Captain Sandy and her crew voyage from Naples to Capri, making stops along the Amalfi Coast.

Midway through the charter season, however, the yacht’s chief stewardess, Hannah Ferrier, discovers that her underperforming third stewardess, Kasey Cohen, lied on her resume. When called out by Ferrier, Cohen admits that instead of being a highly skilled barista and trained in “silver service” (as stated on her CV), she knows only how to do basic laundry and make drip coffee. Cohen attempts to explain away her misrepresentations by stating that she had a friend in yachting “polish” her resume and then submitted it without reading it over.

Blame the Poor Proofreader

Resume padding isn’t limited to entry-level yachties. In fact, former Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson stepped down from his post in 2012 after only four months, when it came to light that he falsely claimed to have a computer science degree. Like Cohen, Thompson attributed the inadvertent error to a lack of proofreading. According to a report by The Washington Post, Thompson denied ever submitting a physical resume to Yahoo or his previous employer and chalked the misstated credential up to shoddy work by the recruiting firm that placed him.

Cohen’s and Thompson’s exaggerations about their work experience and education should come as no surprise, according to a 2017 survey from staffing service OfficeTeam, which found:

  • Job applicants most frequently embellish their job experience (76%), job duties (59%), and education (33%).
  • Other common misrepresentations on resumes include fudging dates to mask gaps in employment and inflating job titles.

Is this a harmless case of “faking it ‘till you make it” or an unforgivable misstep?

Legal Considerations for Employers

From a legal perspective, the question for employers typically boils down to whether the misrepresentation was material or serious. For example, if an applicant’s lie had a direct bearing on the position and caused the employer to extend the job offer, immediate discharge may be warranted. In those situations, it’s prudent to confront the employee about the suspected deception and give her a chance to explain—much like Ferrier did on Below Deck Med.

Employers (and employees) also should keep in mind that the consequences of falsifying a resume can extend beyond termination. In some instances, resume fraud can limit an employee’s ability to recover damages for legitimate legal claims against the company. Specifically, under the “after-acquired evidence doctrine,” an employer may be able to rely on evidence of resume fraud to limit an employee’s damages in a wrongful termination lawsuit if the misrepresentations were so serious that the employer would have fired the employee had it known about the falsehoods before the discharge.

On Below Deck Med, Ferrier decided not to “make waves” and instead allowed Cohen to remain employed. In fact, the third stewardess’ performance eventually turned the corner, and Ferrier said she would recommend Cohen for another cruise.