Lying Liars

by Evil HR Lady on May 30, 2008

My question pertains to terminating an employee for lying on their application. Does it matter how the company found out they lied? Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

Your question intrigues me because I’m trying to figure out how you found out about a lie in such a way that you are afraid to present the information as a reason for termination.

Keep in mind that private businesses aren’t subject to rules of evidence that courts of law are. But, as a general rule, you don’t want to accept heresay evidence for something as serious as a termination.

Generally, lying on an application shouldn’t be an issue by the time someone is hired. Why? Because you should have done your background checks. These checks should include convictions, education and past employment. You should do at least employment verification checks with your candidates–did they really have the jobs they said they did?

But, something fell through the cracks and now something has come to your attention. If another employee came up to you and whispered in your ear, “hey, I worked with Joe at another company and he was fired for stealing computers,” you may want to look into that allegation, but keep in mind that unless that other employee was directly involved with Joe’s original termination, he could be 100% wrong.

Gossip is a very bad thing to base a decision on. Gossip cannot be trusted and should be independently verified before you make decisions. Keep in mind, that even if Joe did steal the computers, he may have negotiated a voluntary termination reason from the former employer and since he wasn’t convicted of anything, he really didn’t lie on his application.

You do want to make sure that you are treating all employees equally. Why are you digging more into this employee’s application? If you are an equal opportunity digger, then go ahead.

If you don’t feel like you have a rock solid case of lying, but you really, truly, believe your source and want to terminate, I suggest doing so with severance and having the employee sign a general release. Severance can make people go away quietly.

And for heaven’s sake, do your indepth background checks before making the offer (or after making the offer, but make the offer contingent on a positive outcome). No one wants to hire liars and getting rid of one can get expensive. (Even if you are correct and the employee lied, it doesn’t mean there won’t be lawsuits and lawyers and severance payments involved. Is that worth the $100 you saved by not running a background check?)

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Helen May 31, 2008 at 5:00 am

I wonder if the questioner meant something like someone I worked with all too briefly who lied about his skills to get the job. He claimed to be an extremely advanced expert at X, when as far as I could tell, he had merely heard of X before (and no I’m not exaggerating on that one).

In that case wouldn’t it be more a case of firing for failure to perform the specified job?

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Totally Consumed May 31, 2008 at 9:26 am

“Does it matter how the company found out they lied?”

Like EHRL, the first question that pops into my head is, ‘why do you ask’? Is the ‘Jiminy Cricket’ on your shoulder (your conscience) giving you reason to pause?

In general, it doesn’t really matter HOW you found out, as long as the information is solid and germane to the job, you are in safe territory if you terminate the employment of someone who lied on an application.

BUT … if your conscience is keeping you up at night with this question, then your situation might be an exception. When in doubt, listen to Jiminy – he won’t lead you astray.

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Evil HR Lady May 31, 2008 at 11:49 am

Helen–I’d recommend firing for that person regardless, and I would probably do so without offering severance either. It amazes me when people think they can get away with something.

Totally Consumed–I agree–a conscience can be very helpful in such a situation.

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Helen May 31, 2008 at 1:42 pm

Heh, that’s what those of us who had to listen to this guy’s dumb questions pushed for. I’m not sure why it took as long as it did.

Sadly, those of us who understood X had provided some interview questions to sort out whether a candidate knew a decent amount about X or was just trying to fake it. The HR manager and the hiring manager who interviewed the guy chose to ignore those questions and hired him because he said he was highly expert in X.

We had originally suggested the candidates go through a brief tech interview with one or more of those who understood X. That was nothing new — we’d done it before. But that was rejected as unnecessary, hence the list of proffered questions. Eh, we tried.

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Evil HR Lady May 31, 2008 at 3:01 pm

Why oh why wouldn’t they do a technical interview? I know–the manager didn’t want to admit he didn’t know how to hire. Grrrr. We hired you to manage, not to do the work, so if you don’t understand everything, fine, but make sure you have someone who does understand asking questions.

Grrr. Stupid people annoy me.

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The Engineer June 1, 2008 at 3:49 pm

If you can confirm that the lie is really a lie then it shouldn’t matter how you found out.

@ Helen and Evil
This is the discussion that really needed to follow the one about recruiters. There is more to the hiring process than the background check (or the job posting, or interview questions). That is the whole reason for a “probationary period.” But that involves others in the company and those others often like to blame someone else for their mistakes. HR is a separate department and very involved with the process. Ergo, an easy way to place the blame.

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Anonymous June 2, 2008 at 1:27 am

Yeah how dare applicants lie…lying is reserved for HR, Recruiters, Executives, and our government.

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Still learning June 2, 2008 at 1:17 pm

Well, the lie pertains to the “Have you ever been convicted of, plead guilty/no contest to a crime?” question on our application. We verified the information in public records; it is listed as a felony, deferred. However, if the applicant entered a guilty plea, should the answer to that question still have been yes? By the way, (and this might seem incredible) he volunteered the information to another employee).

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jmm43 June 2, 2008 at 3:40 pm

I don’t know how deferment/abeyance agreements work in your state, but where I practice they do not count as a conviction, and are actually listed on the records as dismissals.

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Breanne June 3, 2008 at 2:12 pm

Fascinating. I would generally agree with Evil HOUR Lady. Fire them if the issue is clear and it is a lie. However, states have funny rules for deferred felonies. What was the conviction and how long ago was it? Was it a DUI in the 80’s or stalking last year. Context helps. Usually I am pretty black and white on issues like this…but this sounds sticky.

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Anonymous June 4, 2008 at 12:02 am

And why again wasn’t’ this researched BEFORE the employee began work?

Check your state laws about whether this is technically a guilty plea. If so, terminate.

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Al Sklover June 8, 2008 at 1:51 am

Dear EvilHRLady:

I am from “the other side.” For over 25 years as an employment attorney, I’ve counseled and represented (in negotiation and court)thousands of terminated employees. First, I want to compliment you on something you did: when considering how to conduct the termination meeting, you inquired into the life of the terminated employee. That is, you considered his/her perspective when considering how to deal with him or her in the termination meeting. BRAVO!! Procedures are important, but don’t forget the “human” in “human resources.” I will tell you that HR failures in this regard have given me leverage many, many times to (a) negotiate far larger severance packages, (b) win larger jury awards in court, and (c) at times, see HR executives’ careers suffer afterwards. The other perspective is the key to your work; I preach that, as well, to my clients in how to successfully deal with HR. It’s the key to all “negotiation,” using that word in its broadest perspective. My blog, SkloverWorkingWisdom.com preaches that daily. Like I said, I am a visitor from “the other side.” Consider travelling over to “our side,” for a different and perhaps startling view of things. I really do enjoy your blog, and enjoy your “evil-ness.”
Best, Al Sklover

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Lee March 7, 2009 at 11:30 pm

So I know of a situation where a brother of a co-worker ended up dating someone a I worked with and this person went on to tell his supervisor that he basically lied about his apartment, what he did and so on. Could this person be fired now that all of thos been brought to his supervisors attention? I’ve always been curious whether there really is an HR blackblook that companies keep track of people they don’t want to hire?

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Mike May 13, 2009 at 10:37 pm

If you are dumb enough to lie on an application, you aren’t of a high enough caliber to be hired. 🙂

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