Human Resources News & Insights

What would you do? You find out a valuable employee lied to get hired

All recruiters do their best to make sure everything candidates tell them is accurate. What about someone who lied to get the job, but ended being one of your company’s top performers?

Consider this scenario: You hire an employee. After a few months, you find out he dropped out of college — even though his resume said he’s graduated.

But in his first few months, he ended up being one of the top performers in his department.

Should he be fired for lying? Or does his value to the company outweigh the discrepancy?

What would you do in this situation? Let us know by dropping us a comment.

Print Friendly

Subscribe Today

Get the latest and greatest Human Resources news and insights delivered to your inbox.
  • Most likely we would take disciplinary action, but it might not be termination.

  • Great posting. We have a ton of articles related to resume lies, fraud and general employment screening. These are found at our educational site,

  • christi

    This is a common problem in business. Talented people who don’t have a degree. It may be more ego than anything. I say pull the person into your office, plop down the resume and ask why. Talent is important. This is not a termination offence. But it must be addressed.

  • JVN

    For us, falsification of the application is grounds for termination, but we do very extensive background checks to make sure it doesn’t come to that in the first place. Not only do we look for criminal convictions, but verification of past employment and education.

  • Jackie T

    It might be easy to say “if he is a top performer – what harm was done”, but what if the “little white lie” was about a criminal background – does the fact that he/she is a top performer cause that lie not to be important? If the education is an absolute requirement for the job, then there is a potential discriminatory issue if you are holding some employees/applicants to a standard and not others. Just one more reason why reference checks, criminal background, past employment and educational history checks are a good idea.

  • Christine

    Well, a degree do not measure how well you will perform on a job, just that you have higher education and certification of a specific level of information. The candidate should not lie on the job application to get the job, even though they may be more than qualified for the position but do not have a specific requirement of credentials. The company should value what the employee is contributing and how he is performing. If his pay was based on the fact that he had a degree, the compensation level maybe should be adjusted!

  • This just happened to me. This person was so valuable to me and I depended on her so much. I had to let her go. I really suffered. Great perfomer or mediocre performer must be treated equally in this case. Performance should not factor in to the equation. You cannot compromise on honesty.

  • Liz BC

    Nature of the lie . . . ? A lie is a lie! It’s the intention to deceive. Business relationships are/should be built on trust. Once you know a person has lied about something – you will always question everything they say and do.

  • Shayla

    So, Shelly, based on your response, you are saying that it is okay to lie, because it might not be a big lie? I think that is total ridiculous!! Just like Liz said, a lie is a lie, it doesn’t matter what the reason is, it is an integrity issue and you should be able to trust your employees.

  • JVN

    Liz and Shayla are 100% correct. It’s not whether we as HR people have created a world too reliant on degrees. That’s just an excuse to justify why someone might have felt the need to lie. The point is that this person falsified his application. Our policy is to terminate, or more importantly not hire, in this circumstance. That’s why we don’t even make a contingent offer before the background check is complete.

  • Christine

    I agree, too much is placed on having a degree to get the top paying jobs, but what if the person with more experience and proven work ability did a better job but could not get the job because o the degree requirements… You get a college idiot and pay them top money but can’t do the job! Your are forced to lie and then you still suffer!

  • Jackie T

    Christine I am afraid to disagree…no one is ever “forced to lie” we all have choices and the individual made a choice to lie and perpetuate that lie. We are talking about adults here. If the “college idiot” can’t perform the job then he/she should be held accountable as well, and if higher education should not be used as a hiring standard then we, in HR, should work on getting that corrected, but stating that individuals are being “force to lie” and then they “suffer” sounds ridiculous to me. In my world that is being called being held accountable for your actions…and we all have choices.

  • Elaine

    What about the employee who lies on their expense report? I recently had an employee submit a false expense report but then went to management and told the truth. He has been a valuable and productive employee for one year. One manager wants him fired, the other thinks that since he came clean that another solution should be found. What do you think?

  • JVN

    Did the employee set out to falsify the expense report, or did he transpose numbers or make some other unintentional error? If it was a mistake, how long did he wait to come forward?

    When I first traveled on company business with my current employer, I made a mistake on my expense report because I didn’t understand how airfare charges came across on our company credit cards. As soon as I figured it out, I let the assitant controller know and we took care of the discrepancy.

    If it was an honest mistake and he came forward right away, I’d say let it go. However, if it was intentional or he was overpaid and held onto the money, that presents a major trust issue and I would certainly consider termination.

  • Shayla

    I think that it would depend. Just like JVN said was it intentional? From what you said in your question it seems that it was intentional but then he felt guilty and came clean. Well, we have had that situation happen here where two people claimed mileage for the same places but they rode together so only one was eligible to claim the mileage. Needless to say neither of them still work here. It is an honesty issue above all else. I work for a bank so we take falsifaction very seriously. It would be the same thing as if someone stole some money from the company and then told you that they did it (we have had that happen as well) would you not fire him just because he came forward? My answer is yes, because that shows that you are dishonest.

  • JVN


    I’m curious why both of the two who claimed mileage are gone. Surely the one who actually drove was entitled to mileage? Was the driver in on the false claim of the person who rode with them?

  • Shayla

    Long story short, one was claiming mileage for the same trips that the other one was claiming mileage for (they were also related). The problem was that one of the employees had not completed an expense report for 3 months and all employees are suppose to submit an expense report every month. After a very long investigation, it was found that the employee who submitted all of her expenses at one time only had about 2 inconsistences with who drove whereas the other employee had about 5 or 6. They interviewed other people who actually rode in the car with them and could day who drove. The one employee was terminated for dishonesty based on the evidence that was found during the investigation and the other one received a final warning but later quit. The reason that she only receive a final warning was because she could have clearly forgot since she submitted her expense report for 3 months at one time, but the other employee submitted hers on a monthly basis.

  • Tom D.

    What does the employment application say about untrue applicant statements? If you have language that says that false, incomplete or misrepresented infomation will result in discharge, you better terminate or give up the option on similar cases to come as well as invite disparate treatment charges. If the policy statement says … IS CAUSE for discharge, then I would consider whether the information in question had a bearing on the hiring decision.

    If a three year period of previous employment was overstated by four weeks, the correct information wouldn’t have changed the employment decsion, to say nothing of the plausibilty that the wrong information was given intentionally.

    Less clear, is applicant for a warehouse worker’s position who said he/she graduated from college, only to find out later the person went only one year. If the job only required only H.S. or equivalent, MAYBE you could rationalize retaining the person.

    Having said all that, the employee in question would have to be very valuable to assume the risks of retention.

  • William

    I just lost my job because of a stupid mistake like this. I agree that the employee should be terminated. However, I just found out that an upper level executive at my company also lied about finishing his college degree and continues to. I think this is such a double standard. I am not in anyway trying to justify what I did. I deserve the punishment. However, I feel all the employees should be judged equally. Is there any recourse I could take to bring this to the HR Depts. attention to have this executive investigated?

    Thank you kindly for any advice.

  • JVN


    I would write a letter to the HR Manager that essentially says the same thing you just wrote here. Acknowledge your mistake and make it clear you are not disputing your termination, but bring the disparity in treatment to their attention. Part of what gets companies in trouble in court is inconsistent enforcement of policies. If your former employer’s HR department is worth their salt, they will at least look into the situation.

    There may be extenuating circumstances or missing pieces of the puzzle that justify the difference in treatment (like maybe the VP was honest on his app and with his boss, but pretends to have a degree when dealing with peers and subordinates, which still would point to some kind of issue, but not falsifying records). Still, I know if I received an assertion by someone that one of our VPs had falsified his educational record, I’d at least check it out.

  • Joe

    I have been out of work for a year now. I have had a few interviews and was offered a job four weeks into my unemployement for a chineese company that wanted to hire me to outsource manufacturing jobs to China. After a lot of thought I decided NOT to accept the position (it wasn’t that great to begin with) because of moral reasons – hat outsourcing jobs overseas only benefits the corporporations and has partial caused the problems we face today.

    Since then – Bupkiss. I still wouldn’t have taken the job but now I’m always being faced with the statement of – “you mean you haven’t worked in a year?” click the phone goes dead.

    Never mind if you are qualified for the job. Never mind if you have relationships within the accounts that the job is selling into. Never mind that last year sold 3 million dollars into that same account.
    You haven’t worked for over a year when companys aren’t hiring and the country is in the toilet.

    Well let me tell you – Honesty DOESN’T PAY.

    And, by-the-way, 90% of the companys in America lie about the job, the compensation, the health of the company, the boss….. Screw ’em.

    I’ll just learn how to rob banks.

  • Mel

    I guess it comes down to whether or not it will have an impact on the company to take action. I was with a firm where an Exec VP allowed our proxies and website to claim he had a degree when he never really finished. I knew he did not but it was not my place to make it known. It was brought to the attention of the CEO at one point and he was not fired or forced to resign but was demoted. It happened again a year or two later with a President that came from an acquired division that had a resume problem. I think it lends itself to a double standard. If the company wants to keep the person they likely will…if not they will use it as a reason to let them go. I believe it is best for all concerned if the resume is honest. I don’t see bragging about accomplishments to sell yourself to the hiring manager as a problem. Misstating degrees or outright lies are not a good way to start a potential relationship and should be avoided.

    As for Joe above, keep on plugging and try not to be so bitter toward hiring managers. When supply is up they have to go through a lot more applicants and can be a lot more choosy. I was out of work for about 3 months last year and wondered if it was ever going to end. Luckily I got a new position just as my severance was running out.

  • Susanna

    I feel that if a degree was required to obtain the position in the first place then it should have been verified during the pre-employment screening process, otherwise, it shouldn’t be an issue after the fact. If the employee is doing well and is an asset to the company then leave well enough alone and bite the bullet for not doing your job correctly in the first place. (If you were responsible for verifying the resume/application.)

  • We verify, verify, verify. Before hiring we would have known if he had a college degree. Never-the-less, if we subsequently learned of a lie on the application, we would terminate the individual.

    HR Director

  • Good people are hard to find and to simply have an automatic reaction I believe would be a mistake. I agree that the offense should be taken seriously and that some type of disciplinary action should be taken, however, keep in mind that the ‘time should fit the crime.’ Also from my observations of many employers they are not squakly clean in applying the honesty test?? When the Fnancial manager overstates the earnings did they get fired? When your Sales VP overlooked a post dated sale for the quarter so the numbers would be on target was she fired? You get my drift. If we fire with no exception for not telling the truth then yes, the person should be shown the door, however, if we are like most companies our record in this area is not stellar. Keep in mind that “a foolish consistecy is the hobgoblin of small minds.”