Who is Andrew Flanagan? This is the question which Myer has found itself asking this week, and the answer appears to be, “that depends upon the day on which you are asking”.
On 18 June 2014, Myer announced that it had appointed Mr Flanagan as group general manager, strategy and business development. Fast forward a week, and Myer was announcing that Mr Flanagan’s employment had been terminated on his first day after it emerged that his employment history was not as it appeared. The initial announcement had said that Mr Flanagan was “formerly managing director and vice president Asia Pacific of Inditex Group”. However, it turned out that Inditex Group (which owns the fashion retailer Zara) has let Myer know that this was not correct.
Myer is not, of, course, the first employer to find itself in this position. What can be called “résumé embellishment” (if you are being charitable) or any number of more colourful expressions (if you are not) is quite common. So, what can employers do to identify untruths in a CV, and what should employers do if they find out only after making an appointment?
The way to avoid the problem is, naturally enough, to ensure that CVs are carefully checked, and to re-check, or do additional checking, in the case of short-listed candidates. A well-prepared interviewer is often the most difficult hurdle for a candidate with a dubious CV to clear; as the old saying goes, you don’t need to have a good memory if you are telling the truth, and candidates who are not telling the truth will often be brought undone by questions which thoroughly cover their claimed experience. If some or all of this process is being outsourced to external recruiters, it will be useful to document what is being done externally to avoid any gaps.
What can the employer do if a CV fiction only comes to light after the employment has commenced? The first step is to raise the matter squarely with the employee, to ensure that you are dealing with deliberate fraud, rather than inadvertent error or inadequate information. It is possible to find out all sorts of things about a person on the internet using Google or social media searches; some of those things are even true. Some things, however, are not; and searches by name are only useful if you are certain that the person’s name has not changed. In this area (and when dealing with the termination of employment more generally) we should keep in mind the principle that one story is gooduntil another is told.
If the employee admits to an untruth or an explanation is not believed by the employer, there will almost always be grounds to terminate the employment on the basis of serious and wilful misconduct. Obviously, if the employee has falsely claimed a qualification necessary to perform the role (such as a degree) the question will be straightforward. However, the position may be more complex if the untruth is of a lower order (for example, a job invented to cover a short period of employment 10 years ago) and the employee’s service during employment is unblemished.
Can the employer sue the untruthful employee? That question was raised in a recent attempt by an employer to recover all wages paid to an employee who had made a number of apparently false claims in what the court described as her “padded” CV. The employer described its claim to recover all monies paid as “immensely simple” but the Supreme Court of Western Australia did not agree.
The Court noted that the employer had accepted the benefit of the employee’s services, which were sufficiently satisfactory that the employee was promoted, before the truth came out, and held that the employer would be “unjustly enriched” if the employer retained the benefit of those services but got back all its money. However, the Court did accept that an employer could recover loss suffered because of an employee’s incompetence or ineptitude where the employee lacked the skills which were claimed in a “padded” CV.
However, as in many areas of business, the only thing better than suing to recover your loss is not suffering the loss in the first place. This means ensuring that all of your pre-employment processes, both internal and external, work together, so that there are no gaps for errant candidates to slide through. That will give you the best chance of identifying a curriculum vitae which, rather than translating literally from Latin as “course of life”, is, instead, merely a course of lies.