I was hired by a construction company that is thorough about its hiring process. One week in at a division meeting, I discovered, to my horror, that a former employer whom I failed to list on my résumé was working for the same company. This person fired me previously, and will undoubtedly be in contact with my supervisor who shares his same role, as project manager. My tenure with that former company lasted three months; I left it off my résumé purposely, and fudged the employment dates of my other jobs to account for the gap. What do I do?
THE FIRST ANSWER
Associate lawyer, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, Ottawa
Okay, so you lied on your résumé. Dishonesty is serious and it can get you fired. Whether it amounts to grounds for dismissal involves a weighing of the nature and degree of the dishonesty. It is viewed on a continuum and not all lies amount to grounds for dismissal. The cases are fact-driven and your chances of getting fired increase when you lie about something significant and relevant to your job.
An employer may terminate an employee for “cause” (without reasonable notice or pay in lieu thereof) if the employee was dishonest during the recruitment process. If an employer is faced with a wrongful-termination lawsuit, the employer can argue that the employee made a false or fraudulent misrepresentation, rendering the employment contract voidable. The employer will need to prove that: the representation was false; the employee knew it was false; and, the employer relied on the representation and was thereby induced to enter into the employment relationship. In other words, the employer will need to prove that the employee was hired because of the “fudging” or that the “fudging” contributed to the employer’s decision to hire.
Leaving something off your résumé may not be significant, but lying about your employment dates can cause problems. The law always carves out exceptions – especially when the “fudging” is not significant. Dishonesty is never met with kindness – however, the threshold to fire an employee for cause is high.
THE SECOND ANSWER
Chief research and development officer, Morneau Shepell, Toronto
Albert Einstein once said, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.” Your situation is creating strain for you, as you were not truthful. Perhaps not so much with respect to not listing a previous company but, as you said, fudging employment dates. Sadly, you’re not alone. One statistic suggests that 46 per cent of résumés contain some false information.
The good news is that your old supervisor needs to be careful with what they say, as your employment history details are protected by confidentiality.
More good news is that your new manager has likely formed their own first impression of you. Unless you did something criminal or otherwise there’s a good chance that even if your former manager slips out something about you, your current manager, if they have any professional integrity, will be guided by their own opinion. Provided that you are doing good work, one option is to do nothing. If something does happen because of your former manager, discuss your rights with an employment lawyer.
Another option sounds harder and may have risk. You could tell your manager why you did what you did, express your fear, say what you learned, and apologize. Some leaders would see this as a sign of respect and courage. Whether the outcome is good or bad, you will have taken control of the situation to fix it. The truth can be a good place to be, even when it doesn’t sound appealing. We are all fallible and make mistakes. Fear can result in rationalizing poor decisions. However, in the end we all own our actions, mistakes and consequences.