Ethical dilemma: An employee fakes their professional credentials


What would you do if you found out that an existing high-performing employee had been dishonest about their professional credentials when they applied for the job?

In part five of HRM’s ethical dilemma series, where we ask AHRI members to respond to made-up ethical dilemmas, we explore what HR professionals should do after discovering that an employee has misrepresented their qualifications.

The ethical dilemma

Rachel is a high-performing software engineer at your organisation. She has been with the company for over two years and has had a consistently strong track record.

However, you receive a tip from another employee that Rachel was dishonest about her educational credentials when she joined the organisation. Upon investigating, you discover that she did not complete her bachelor’s degree, but still included the qualification on her CV. A tertiary level education was specified as a minimum requirement when she applied for the job.

What should you do next?

Bojana’s response:

Employee misrepresentation is usually a deliberate act that can significantly erode trust, making it essential to conduct a thorough investigation and engage in open conversation. From a legal standpoint, I don’t think it constitutes a termination.

Following the initial investigation, it is critical to approach Rachel to validate the information to determine the best course of action for all parties. Rachel has to confirm whether the statement is accurate or not. 

What would you do in this situation? Let us know in the comment section or catch up on the other articles in this series.

We are looking at two very different scenarios and outcomes depending on Rachel’s answer being ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Let us assume that Rachel answers ‘yes.’ Now, it becomes paramount to delve into why Rachel has not disclosed the correct information. ‘Why?’ is a powerful question. We should also discuss the potential impact of her misrepresentation. For example, misrepresentation can have significant repercussions on clients and the quality of the product involved. The impact potentially expands to the erosion of trust within Rachel’s team. We may jointly consider actions to rebuild the trust. 

This is also an opportunity to emphasise that our organisation regards performance excellence and values such as trust and honesty equally.

The hiring team should clearly establish why a bachelor’s degree is necessary for the job and update future job advertisements accordingly. If this requirement is essential, background checks can be considered, and candidates should disclose their degrees before signing the employment contract. 

Finally, HR should revise the employment agreements and include the clause that indicates that if the individual engages in misrepresentation, it will constitute serious misconduct.

Joseph’s response:

Like many things relating to people, there are several ways to look at the situation and there is more than one way to deal with it. First you must consider what you can do from a legal perspective. Secondly, you must consider how the business wants to treat other human beings.

There should be an investigation to find out if Rachel does have a degree and lied in her application or it was a genuine mistake. It would also be worth evaluating whether a degree is necessary for the position.

If a degree is necessary for the position and Rachel lied in her application, my decision would most likely be to terminate her role. Arguably, there would be a breakdown of trust in the employment relationship. If it was a mistake and no degree is necessary, you could keep Rachel on.

If it was a mistake but a degree is necessary, you might consider how to support Rachel to get the right qualifications. There are a multitude of other potential scenarios as well. Ultimately, consider the facts and make a human decision – one that you would not mind putting your name to if it made its way into the news headlines.

Gwynneth’s response:

Firstly, I would put the behaviour in context by analysing the legal and cultural framework of the business in relation to trust and honesty. Did the business expressly include a duty of trust in the employment contract? Did the business highlight the importance of trust, honesty and integrity in policy documentation or a code of conduct?  

Secondly, I would meet with Rachel to determine the extent of her dishonesty. Was her intention simply to put a positive spin on her tertiary progress during the recruitment process? Or was she intentionally misrepresenting her qualifications in a fraudulent manner?

The employment consequences for Rachel would depend on weighing the evidence about her intention against the legal framework and cultural values of the business. If her dishonesty was on the lower end of the scale, and of low importance to the business, I would require a guarantee from her that no other material on her resume was false, and that moving forward she understood that lying was an unacceptable workplace behaviour. 

If her dishonesty was so serious as to amount to fraud, and the business highly valued honesty, then I would consider this a valid reason for dismissal despite her high performance. 

Regardless of the consequence for Rachel, I would take this opportunity to re-establish the importance of trust, honesty and integrity to all employees and improve the recruitment procedure by including a qualification check. 


How can HR contribute to an ethical workplace culture? AHRI’s short course will help you define the professional and ethical principles which guide your organisation, and understand HR’s role in shaping company culture around them.


 

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Elisa Peterson
Elisa Peterson
10 months ago

Where is the onboarding process in this dilemma.
If a degree was necessary for the role, why was it not evidenced at onboarding?

David
David
10 months ago

For those commenting on the employee who tipped off HR being ‘jealous’. The tertiary qualification was specified as necessary for the role. I presume the other employees in similar positions have that qualification and have debts (such as HECS) to go along with that. Why should Rachel be given a free ride, when other employees have had to sacrifice with HECS debts to obtain the same role?

Monica Watt
Monica Watt
10 months ago

Interesting question and it is one I have dealt with more than once. In instances where they are technical roles, it is a no brainer, the employee needs to use equipments. Where the employee could not use the equipment, even when holding “tickets” it is very clear they could not remain in that role and needed to be communicated immediately. In other instances, and there have been many, I use a heart centred approach. This means to handle the issue with fairness, integrity and empathy. Call a spade a spade, what happened and why in a private conversation, listening to… Read more »

Kaye
Kaye
10 months ago

If a degree was that essential to the position, a copy of the qualification should have been requested before she started employment. If it wasn’t then it wasn’t that important.

More on HRM
Sorry, no posts matched your criteria.

Ethical dilemma: An employee fakes their professional credentials


What would you do if you found out that an existing high-performing employee had been dishonest about their professional credentials when they applied for the job?

In part five of HRM’s ethical dilemma series, where we ask AHRI members to respond to made-up ethical dilemmas, we explore what HR professionals should do after discovering that an employee has misrepresented their qualifications.

The ethical dilemma

Rachel is a high-performing software engineer at your organisation. She has been with the company for over two years and has had a consistently strong track record.

However, you receive a tip from another employee that Rachel was dishonest about her educational credentials when she joined the organisation. Upon investigating, you discover that she did not complete her bachelor’s degree, but still included the qualification on her CV. A tertiary level education was specified as a minimum requirement when she applied for the job.

What should you do next?

Bojana’s response:

Employee misrepresentation is usually a deliberate act that can significantly erode trust, making it essential to conduct a thorough investigation and engage in open conversation. From a legal standpoint, I don’t think it constitutes a termination.

Following the initial investigation, it is critical to approach Rachel to validate the information to determine the best course of action for all parties. Rachel has to confirm whether the statement is accurate or not. 

What would you do in this situation? Let us know in the comment section or catch up on the other articles in this series.

We are looking at two very different scenarios and outcomes depending on Rachel’s answer being ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Let us assume that Rachel answers ‘yes.’ Now, it becomes paramount to delve into why Rachel has not disclosed the correct information. ‘Why?’ is a powerful question. We should also discuss the potential impact of her misrepresentation. For example, misrepresentation can have significant repercussions on clients and the quality of the product involved. The impact potentially expands to the erosion of trust within Rachel’s team. We may jointly consider actions to rebuild the trust. 

This is also an opportunity to emphasise that our organisation regards performance excellence and values such as trust and honesty equally.

The hiring team should clearly establish why a bachelor’s degree is necessary for the job and update future job advertisements accordingly. If this requirement is essential, background checks can be considered, and candidates should disclose their degrees before signing the employment contract. 

Finally, HR should revise the employment agreements and include the clause that indicates that if the individual engages in misrepresentation, it will constitute serious misconduct.

Joseph’s response:

Like many things relating to people, there are several ways to look at the situation and there is more than one way to deal with it. First you must consider what you can do from a legal perspective. Secondly, you must consider how the business wants to treat other human beings.

There should be an investigation to find out if Rachel does have a degree and lied in her application or it was a genuine mistake. It would also be worth evaluating whether a degree is necessary for the position.

If a degree is necessary for the position and Rachel lied in her application, my decision would most likely be to terminate her role. Arguably, there would be a breakdown of trust in the employment relationship. If it was a mistake and no degree is necessary, you could keep Rachel on.

If it was a mistake but a degree is necessary, you might consider how to support Rachel to get the right qualifications. There are a multitude of other potential scenarios as well. Ultimately, consider the facts and make a human decision – one that you would not mind putting your name to if it made its way into the news headlines.

Gwynneth’s response:

Firstly, I would put the behaviour in context by analysing the legal and cultural framework of the business in relation to trust and honesty. Did the business expressly include a duty of trust in the employment contract? Did the business highlight the importance of trust, honesty and integrity in policy documentation or a code of conduct?  

Secondly, I would meet with Rachel to determine the extent of her dishonesty. Was her intention simply to put a positive spin on her tertiary progress during the recruitment process? Or was she intentionally misrepresenting her qualifications in a fraudulent manner?

The employment consequences for Rachel would depend on weighing the evidence about her intention against the legal framework and cultural values of the business. If her dishonesty was on the lower end of the scale, and of low importance to the business, I would require a guarantee from her that no other material on her resume was false, and that moving forward she understood that lying was an unacceptable workplace behaviour. 

If her dishonesty was so serious as to amount to fraud, and the business highly valued honesty, then I would consider this a valid reason for dismissal despite her high performance. 

Regardless of the consequence for Rachel, I would take this opportunity to re-establish the importance of trust, honesty and integrity to all employees and improve the recruitment procedure by including a qualification check. 


How can HR contribute to an ethical workplace culture? AHRI’s short course will help you define the professional and ethical principles which guide your organisation, and understand HR’s role in shaping company culture around them.


 

Subscribe to receive comments
Notify me of
guest

25 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Elisa Peterson
Elisa Peterson
10 months ago

Where is the onboarding process in this dilemma.
If a degree was necessary for the role, why was it not evidenced at onboarding?

David
David
10 months ago

For those commenting on the employee who tipped off HR being ‘jealous’. The tertiary qualification was specified as necessary for the role. I presume the other employees in similar positions have that qualification and have debts (such as HECS) to go along with that. Why should Rachel be given a free ride, when other employees have had to sacrifice with HECS debts to obtain the same role?

Monica Watt
Monica Watt
10 months ago

Interesting question and it is one I have dealt with more than once. In instances where they are technical roles, it is a no brainer, the employee needs to use equipments. Where the employee could not use the equipment, even when holding “tickets” it is very clear they could not remain in that role and needed to be communicated immediately. In other instances, and there have been many, I use a heart centred approach. This means to handle the issue with fairness, integrity and empathy. Call a spade a spade, what happened and why in a private conversation, listening to… Read more »

Kaye
Kaye
10 months ago

If a degree was that essential to the position, a copy of the qualification should have been requested before she started employment. If it wasn’t then it wasn’t that important.

Sorry, no posts matched your criteria.
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