Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

Here’s why you should never misrepresent your qualifications on your CV

Embellishing your CV may clinch a job but could also lead to legal troubles in the future.

Misrepresenting your qualifications and memberships of professional bodies can cost you your job and your reputation.

This is true even if you meet the minimum requirements for a position, say Jacques van Wyk and Andre van Heerden, directors at Werksmans Attorneys.

This issue was decided in the Labour Court recently where an employee of a municipality was dismissed because he misrepresented his qualifications and membership.

The municipality was looking for a chief financial officer (CFO) in 2015 and a candidate completed an application, submitted his CV, went through the municipality’s recruitment process and was ultimately appointed.

In 2018, the municipality conducted a forensic investigation into the employee’s qualifications and found that he misrepresented his qualifications and professional memberships on his CV. The municipality instituted disciplinary action against the employee for gross dishonesty.

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Dismissed for gross dishonesty

The municipality held a disciplinary hearing where the employee was found guilty as charged and he was dismissed. The employee referred an unfair dismissal dispute to the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

At the CCMA, the forensic investigator led documentary evidence and testified that the employee factually misrepresented that he obtained a BCom Accounting degree, while he only obtained a BCom degree.

He also said he had an honours degree in Generally Recognised Accounting Practice, while he only completed an executive short course. In addition, he said he was a member of the Institute of Internal Auditors of South Africa, entitling him to use the title GIA (General Internal Auditor), although he cancelled his membership before he was appointed.

The employee also said he was a Registered Accounting Officer with the Institute of Administration and Commence, although he was not a registered Accounting Officer since 2008.

However, the forensic investigator acknowledged that the employee “met the general requirement for the position as CFO”. He was favoured above the other applicants on the basis that he claimed to be a BCom Accounting graduate.

Despite being unable to justify the rationale for overstating his accounting qualification, the employee argued that he was not dishonest. After he was initially evasive, he conceded that he did not have all the qualifications as set out in his CV.

He was unable to properly explain why he overstated his qualification, indicating that it was an error on his part. He denied that he had been dishonest and also offered some explanations about his honours degree and professional memberships, but in the end conceded that some aspects of the information were incorrect.

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CCMA says dismissal was unfair

The Arbitrating Commissioner found the employee’s dismissal was substantively unfair and ordered his retrospective reinstatement with backpay in the amount of R2 058 333.27 because the employee met the qualifications for the position.

The municipality instituted review proceedings in the labour court on the grounds that a reasonable commissioner would not have made this ruling.

The labour court reiterated that the test for review is that of a reasonable decision maker. Van Wyk and Van Heerden say when applying the reasonableness test, a commissioner’s conduct is assessed against that of the reasonable decision maker.

“Moreover, two interrelated components are considered when applying the test: the process followed in the enquiry and the assessment of the evidence placed before the commissioner in arriving at the decision. The labour court stated that ‘this constitutes the true nature of the enquiries before the commissioners’.”

Van Wyk says in addition, the review test dictates that a decision is unreasonable if it is not justifiable regarding the evidential material placed before the decision maker. “A decision is reasonable if it is just, rational and appropriate in the circumstances. Similarly, a decision is unreasonable if it is unjust, irrational and inappropriate.”

Van Heerden says in applying the test, the labour court importantly stated that the true nature of the enquiry was not whether the employee met the requirements for the position that he applied for, but rather whether he was grossly dishonest when he presented himself as the holder of degrees and professional memberships, which he did not possess.

“In this regard, the conclusion of the commissioner was not in line with the evidence placed before him. The labour court held that the commissioner failed to properly assess the evidence presented and did not explain why the one party’s version was ‘more compelling than the other’.”

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Not an error to misrepresent qualifications and memberships

In addition, the labour court was not swayed by the employee’s argument that he had made an error when he reflected his qualifications and memberships on his CV. Van Wyk says the labour court rather found, upon a consideration of various application judicial authorities, that the employee was grossly dishonest and that this warranted his dismissal.

Van Heerden points out that if the commissioner properly assessed the evidence and the true nature of the enquiry, he would have found that the employee misrepresented himself. As such, the commissioner’s “decision to reinstate the employee in circumstances where he misrepresented his qualifications and professional status, was unreasonable and constitutes a decision a reasonable decision-maker could not reach.”

The CCMA award was, therefore, set aside and the employee’s dismissal was held to be both procedurally and substantively fair.

Van Wyk says this case is important because it is a further example in a long line of previous examples that indicates where an employee misrepresents qualifications or professional status it is, on its own, a serious offence that may warrant dismissal.

“This is regardless of whether the employee met the requirements of the post. The fact is that whether or not the employee meets the minimum requirements of the post does not detract from the dishonesty of misrepresenting one’s qualifications.”

Van den Heever adds that employees must be aware that aside from being dismissed, the misrepresentation can potentially lead to further legal consequences, such as being found to have committed a criminal offence.

“Employers are also reminded of the importance of the need to verify all qualifications and professional memberships employees record in their CVs.”

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