IN the last year or so there have been several instances of persons who have applied for jobs, or secured jobs, being found not to possess the qualifications they claim to have. Often it is a case of a person including in his curriculum vitae qualifications or degrees that he does not have. In such a case a false certificate is not presented but the cheat relies on the hope that the prospective employer might focus on the CV and not bother with the details of the certificate if presented. Of greater concern is where the applicant actually presents a fake certificate attesting to his being awarded a pass, a particular grade or a degree.
Sometime ago I was reviewing applications for a clerical post and noticed that an applicant claimed to have passed three advanced level subjects with Grades B, C and D. I thought that in respect of the post for which he was applying the grades were not bad. On checking the actual certificates sometime after I noticed that there was no B. In fact he had a C in the subject he said he had a B in and a D in the subject he said he had a C in.
Bolstering a CV
I expect that many hopeful job applicants are tempted to inflate or bolster their CVs when applying for jobs in this competitive working world but should plain lies, falsities and even forgeries be tolerated? The applicant I interviewed claimed that the errors must have been a “mistake” and he did not know how they happened. One error was possible but two? And how much of a coincidence could it be that both inflated his grades?
It has been said in fairly lofty quarters that no one should expect a CV to be accurate; that given that a person may vary his CV to meet the particular requirements of specific jobs or situations it was acceptable if it was 80 per cent accurate. Now that is an unacceptable position if I ever heard one. It might be forgivable if an occasional typographical error is made in a CV. That is par for the course. What ought not to be condoned is where the actual educational qualifications and/or experience are misrepresented to the benefit of the applicant.
That is plainly dishonest because the person would have either held himself out to (a) have excelled to a certain level when he has not or (b) possess qualifications which he does not have. The applicant must be presumed to have intended to deceive his prospective employer or client to the detriment of other applicants. He would have secured an unfair advantage over his competitors who at the very least were more honest that he was. It is no explanation or excuse to say that everyone makes mistakes or something of that ilk. If he is prepared to have a CV that is 20 per cent incorrect or false— to his advantage—then it is obvious that he knew there were falsities and went along, fully well knowing that the inflated claims would place him at an advantage in securing a job.
Is there any legal liability for such an action? Well, first of all in the workplace it could amount to misconduct leading to termination of employment. Apart from that there is a possibility of a charge of obtaining property by false pretences. The law states that a person who by a false pretence, with intent to defraud, obtains from another person any money, chattel or valuable security commits such an offence. If a person makes a claim of false qualifications which are necessary for the high-paying job he is applying for, does he not intend to defraud his prospective employers of salary and perks to which he would not otherwise be entitled?
What if the qualifications are not necessary for the job but the pretence of having them is intended to beat out the competition? It might be difficult to prove intention to defraud.
It is easier to bring home a criminal charge where the applicant has not just claimed fake qualifications in his CV but has produced a fake certificate. This is a case of forgery. A document is said to be false when it “tells a lie about itself”. The Forgery Act defines forgery as “the making of a false document in order that it may be used as genuine”. So a document which purports to be a degree certificate issued to a particular person which is false is in fact a forged document. It tells a lie about itself if the person was either never awarded the degree or the signatories to the document are false or both. Where the forgery is committed with intent to deceive the offence is complete. The maximum penalty is either seven years or two years depending on the section of the Act under which the charge is laid.
Where the applicant presents a false certificate when interviewed or to his prospective employer afterwards this is another offence of uttering a false document.
The Caribbean Examinations Council Act provides specifically at section 18 that where a person “forges, alters, offers, utters or disposes of, knowing the same to be forged or altered, any document purporting to show that a person has obtained a result in an examination held by the Council is guilty of an offence”. Forging or altering a CXC certificate is a specific offence which carries a penalty of $5,000 and one year imprisonment.
The frequency, of late, with which persons are presenting themselves to have academic qualifications, which they do not have, calls for immediate intervention by the authorities. Where criminal charges can be made out let them be pursued or if not, the law must be amended to stop this unethical and nefarious practice. It is unfair and just plain wrong.
• Dana S Seetahal is a former independent senator