A report in The Guardian earlier this week highlighted again the risk to employees in lying or covering up information on job application forms. Cheltenham Borough Council is suing its former managing director, Christine Laird, in the High Court because she allegedly failed to tell them that she had a history of depression when she took the job. In this instance Ms Laird disputes her liability and is fighting the claim.
Apparently she joined the council in 2002 and went on sick leave in June 2004, before leaving the following year. The Council is suing for the cost of cover for her whilst she was off sick, the cost of her ill-health pension and legal costs from some other (unnamed) legal proceedings. According to The Guardian these costs amount to £1mn, a huge sum.
The claim is brought on the basis of her alleged “fraudulent or negligent misrepresentation”. Claims for misrepresentation are usually quite difficult to prove, especially where the alleged comments were made orally. The basis for a misrepresentation claim is that the comment(s) induced the other party to enter into a contract and, as a result of that reliance, they suffered loss. The Council will, presumably, be arguing that if she had told them she suffered from depression at the job interview or when completing the medical questionnaire they would not have employed her and hence they have suffered loss in having to pay her a costly ill health pension. It will be interesting to see if it is argued by Ms Laird’s lawyers that such an approach would have constituted disability discrimination.
The facts of that case (such as they have been published) make interesting reading and I will await the outcome with interest. However, regardless of whether the Council succeeds or not, it is a salutary reminder to all job seekers to be very careful when completing c.vs or job application forms. This particular case is exceptional. In most cases an employer won’t bother suing in the High Court for misrepresentation if it discovers the employee to have been lying; it will just sack the employee for breach of trust and confidence. That is what happened to an NHS director a few weeks ago who was found tpo have lied on his c.v about his professional qualifications – he claimed he had a PhD and Msc in Psychology, whereas he only had a BSc. In fact not only was he dismissed but he ended up in jail for fraud.
This article will appear in the “Docklands” and “Peninsula” newspapers week commencing 2nd February.