Is there ever a statute of limitations when you discover that an employee has lied on their resume or a job application?
This month a senior executive at WalMart in the U.S. was forced to resign after the company discovered he had lied about completing his university degree. David Tovar, an 8 year veteran of the company, attended the University of Delaware but ultimately was "a couple of credits short" of completion. He served as Vice President, Corporate Communications and was in the process of being promoted to a Senior V.P. position when a routine background check discovered his education history. Source: NY Times
Similarly, Yahoo chief executive Scott Thompson was forced to resign from the tech company in 2012 after it was discovered he had lied about completing a computer science degree. Source: The Guardian
A Canadian example occurred in 2013 when Chris Spence was forced to leave his position as a director for the Toronto District School Board when he admitted to plagiarizing portions of an editorial he wrote for the Toronto Star. Later, officials at the University of Toronto accused him of academic dishonesty and plagiarism on his 1996 PhD thesis. Source: Toronto Sun
Issues for HR managers
Discovering that someone has lied on their resume after the fact, particularly someone in a senior position, can be embarassing for the company and disruptive for your workforce.
The best way to avoid this is a rigorous interview process that includes challenging applicants on the most common resume misrepresentations, including:
For additional interview tips, including the fact that you should always, always, always perform reference checks, see our recent blogs "Hiring Lessons from the Lance Armstrong Scandal" and "Five Mistakes Interviewers Make."
Is a "zero tolerance policy" the right approach?
Many companies are moving towards establishing a "zero tolerance" policy for lying or exaggerating about credentials during the hiring process. They provide each candidate with a form to sign stating that everything they have shared is accurate and that they understand that any type of fraud will lead to termination.
Having such a policy does offer a clear course of action when faced with this situation: investigate and if charges of fraud or misrepresentation prove corrrect, terminate.
However, a "zero tolerance" policy does not allow for any discretion on the part of an HR manager or business owner. One can imagine a case where someone has been successfully performing duties for many years and is suddenly shown the door due to an error in judgment perhaps decades earlier.
With reference to the WalMart executive forced to resign, Clear Path's Lindsay Majkic confirms the dilemma HR managers face. "Obviously he has demonstrated his ability to perform the duties of his job. But forgiving a senior team member for lying or exaggerating is a slippery slope."
What approach does you organization use? Do you prefer to have a clear policy or want the freedom to make decisions on a case-by-case basis?
Ready to learn more?
The team of HR consultants at Clear Path are available to help you with your HR questions. Contact us today at firstname.lastname@example.org or (519) 624-0800.
We are also holding two informative learning sessions you may be interested in attending:
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