So you took some liberties with rounding rules when reporting your GPA, boasted proficiency in a language you can say “hello” and “goodbye” in, or trimmed the “Assistant” from the “Assistant VP” title you held at your last job. Everyone lies on their resume, right? No harm, no foul?
Well…not quite. Whether you call it resume “padding,” “embellishment,” or “fudging,” claiming a credential on your resume that’s not really accurate constitutes a lie. While some resume lies are certainly bigger than others, even the small ones can come back to bite you in ways you may not expect.
We take a look at some of the legal risks you incur when you submit a falsehood–big or small–on your resume.
YOU COULD FACE CRIMINAL CHARGES
According to the laws of several states, the cardinal sin of resume fraud is falsifying your educational record.
Under the Texas Penal Code, for example, it is illegal to use, or even to just claim to hold, a postsecondary degree you know to be fraudulent, substandard, or fictitious in order to obtain employment. This makes it illegal to either falsely claim you received a degree from an actual, accredited university, or to list a degree from a “diploma mill” (an unaccredited institution that offers “degrees” for a flat fee in a short amount of time with little to no coursework).
Punishment for resume fraud of this variety varies from state to state. In New Jersey, the use of a fraudulent degree is subject to a civil penalty of $1,000 for each offense. Texas, on the other hand, classifies falsifying your educational record as a Class B misdemeanor (punishable by up to $2,000 in fines and 6 months in prison), and Kentucky raises it to a Class A misdemeanor (punishable by up to a year in prison).
YOU COULD BE FIRED
Though it does not appear to be categorically against the law to inflate your language proficiency or skills on a resume, less serious falsifications like these can still have legally enforceable consequences.
For at-will employees, whose employers are legally permitted to fire them for any reason (or no reason at all), lying on a resume could certainly provide compelling ammunition for an employer to exercise this unrestricted right.
While just-cause employees enjoy greater protections, as their employers may terminate them only for a set of valid reasons, they should also be careful about including inaccurate information on their resume. Resume fraud can constitute a just cause for termination as long as the falsified information meets the conditions for “materiality”:
- It relates directly to the qualifications (i.e. Spanish proficiency) considered in evaluating candidates for employment.
- The employer relied upon the falsified information in making their hiring decision (i.e. you got the job because you falsely listed a higher level of Spanish proficiency than your competitors).
YOU COULD JEOPARDIZE A LEGITIMATE LAWSUIT
If a lie on your resume doesn’t get you fired, it could still come back to haunt you should you ever want to sue your employer for a violation of your legal rights.
For instance, if your employer dismisses you in a way that is illegal, or denies you a promotion because of your race, your claim–however legitimate–may still be undermined if your employer can prove that they would not have hired you in the first place if you hadn’t lied on your resume. This is called “after-acquired evidence,” and in several cases it has been sustained by the courts as an appropriate defense for employers.
Resume falsifications that may be enough to nullify your case as a wronged employee include: false statements about your academic or professional credentials, failure to disclose a termination for cause from a former position, or the omission of a former employer.
Lying on your resume can land you in jail, get you fired, or leave you without legal recourse against an employer. Next time you’re tempted to add a bit of “harmless” resume padding, ask yourself if it’s really worth it.