Enforce ‘truth statement’ on applications

If your organization's job application doesn't include a "statement of accuracy," add one fast. In signing, applicants promise they've given complete and accurate answers. Such statements provide a solid legal basis for refusing to hire people who fib on their applications, or even firing employees if you discover their lies later.

One possible snag: What about applicants who submit only rÈsumÈs, not signed applications? Require all job candidates to fill out applications. Plus, as the company correctly did in the following case, include language in your employee handbook that threatens discipline, up to termination, for providing false statements in personnel documents, timecards, etc.

Recent case: To secure a job offer, Kevin Carter filled out a questionnaire that asked about his prior work injuries and treatment. It also required him to certify that the answers were complete and true. Carter disclosed having back trouble but didn't mention a prior back injury and treatment. In fact, he was still collecting workers' comp benefits for the injury when he started his new job.

Carter soon told his new supervisor that he injured his back at a client's site. He filed a workers' comp claim and sought treatment at the same doctor, who told the company that Carter had re-aggravated a prior injury. The company fired Carter for failing to disclose his earlier injury. Carter sued, calling the firing retaliation for his workers' comp claim. But a federal appeals court tossed out the lawsuit, saying his dishonest answers on the application violated the accuracy statements in the application and the employee handbook. (Carter v. Tennant Co., No. 03-2791, 7th Cir., 2004)

Final point: When interviewing applicants, don't ask if they've ever filed a workers' comp claim. But once you've made a conditional job offer, you can probe into occupational injuries. Still, you can't withdraw job offers based solely on applicants' disabilities or because they've filed a claim in the past.

Statements of accuracy on job applications: two examples

1. "I certify that all answers given by me are true, accurate and complete. I understand that the falsification, misrepresentation or omission of fact on this application (or any other accompanying documents) will be cause for denial of employment or immediate termination of employment, regardless of when or how it was discovered."
2. "I certify that the answers given herein are true and complete to the best of my knowledge. I also authorize investigation of all statements contained in this application as may be necessary in arriving at an employment decision. In the event of employment, I understand that false or misleading information given in my application or interview(s) may result in discharge."
Source: Society for Human Resource Management