Stretching the truth | 'Fake doctor' duped NHS for 20 years. What can HR do if staff lie about their skills?

'Fake doctor' duped NHS for 20 years. What can HR do if staff lie about their skills?

Every HR professional will have encountered a job applicant who has stretched the truth on their CV. Perhaps they exaggerated their PowerPoint prowess or pretended to be proficient in Photoshop. Maybe it was a little white lie about a lengthy employment gap out of fear of being judged.

However, news emerged from a court last week about one person who took their lies to a whole new level. 

Over a twenty-year period, Zholia Alemi worked as an NHS psychiatrist in hospitals in England, Wales, and Scotland, earning income and benefits over £1m.

But she never held the medical qualifications necessary to undertake these roles. Alemi had actually forged her medical qualifications at the University of Auckland to gain entry to the General Medical Council register. In truth, she had dropped out of her university course after the first year. She was then able to gain employment in various hospitals based on this fraud.

In doing so, the Crown Prosecution Service said Alemi “must have treated hundreds of patients when she was unqualified to do so, potentially putting them at risk.”

She was convicted last week of forging documents and fraudulently earning more than £1million.

Caught an employee lying on their CV? You could confiscate their pay, court rules

Of course, Alemi’s fraud is an extreme example of lying about your qualifications, but a landmark ruling made in 2022 means that employees caught lying about their qualifications or salaries on their CVs could be made to pay back their employers.

That announcement came at the conclusion of a major legal case surrounding Jon Andrewes, a former builder and probation officer who landed a job as Chief Executive Officer of a hospice by falsely claiming he had a PhD and an MBA. In reality, a Higher Education Certificate in Social Work was the highest qualification he actually held.

The Supreme Court has ruled that CV fraudsters like Andrewes could be subject to a confiscation order under the Proceeds of Crime Act. So if you pad out your CV, you could in theory be prosecuted for fraud and have to pay back a chunk of your salary.

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Judges concluded that Andrewes had landed his chief exec role “by making a number of false or dishonestly inflated and misleading statements about his educational qualifications and experience in his application for that role. He remained employed in that role until 2015.

Despite his lies, the court heard that Andrewes “did a good job as CEO and was regularly appraised as either strong or outstanding”. But suspicions grew about his true qualifications, and his ruse was eventually foiled in 2017, when he was exposed and convicted of fraud, jailed for two years and ordered to hand over all his remaining assets.

What HR should know about the legal ruling

Alexandra Mizzi, Legal Director at Howard Kennedy, believes that the court’s decision opens the door for other employers to follow suit.

She said: "The Supreme Court has issued a stern reminder about the pitfalls of exaggerating your qualifications. An individual who dishonestly inflated his qualifications and experience in order to secure numerous roles, most notably as a CEO role at a hospice, has been prosecuted for fraud. Whilst prosecutions like this have previously been rare, with most employers opting for dismissal on the grounds of lying on a CV, this case could pave the way for employers taking greater action.”

Mizzi went on: “Some surveys suggest CV fraud has increased during the pandemic as people turned to online 'diploma mills' to boost their chances of a better job and then misrepresented the qualifications they had obtained. If this case is anything to go by you not only risk losing your job if found out, but also having to pay back some of your salary and the bigger the fib, the bigger the percentage the employer can claim.”

The bottom line of CV lies

Although the cases of Alemi and Andrewes are extreme ones, research shows that they’re far from alone in embellishing their resumes for career gain. A study from YouGov found that 10% of Brits admitted to having lied on their CV at some point in their careers.

The results show that, first and foremost, education and qualifications are the most likely parts of a CV to be embellished, with four in ten (40%) résumé embellishers having fibbed about this.

Other common CV lies included how long Brits had spent in a job (35%) and their level of experience (30%). People who worry about not sounding interesting enough in the “personal interests” section of their résumé should note that this too was a fairly common fabrication, with three in ten (29%) CV liars admitting to making up hobbies.

Career coach Matt Somers said: “Just don’t do it. Ever. Rather than wonder if you can get away with a small lie on this CV or that online application, just resolve never to lie. That way you’re never under pressure at an interview to remember what you lied about, interviews are stressful enough as it is!”

Unfortunately, making some false claims in the recruitment process may be a necessary evil for some.

HR Grapevine recently reported on the case of a UK worker who claimed he was rejected from more than 100 jobs before finally securing job interviews... after he began using a British-sounding name on his applications.

Thiago Carmo, a Brazilian man who lives in Scotland on a visa scheme, claimed he had unsuccessfully applied for more than 100 jobs, receiving nothing but automated rejection messages despite holding two degrees AND a Master’s. However, he reportedly received a wealth of interest from hiring firms once he started going by James Carr on his applications.

Carmo’s case highlights that the calls from the likes of Somers to 'just don’t lie' on your CV isn’t always practical - the current bog-standard hiring process means some jobseekers will instinctively feel the need to embellish or conceal parts of their CV in order to get noticed. But how can we change this?

Click here to find out why one firm, Arctic Shores, thinks scrapping the CV is the way forward.

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