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Honesty: Always the best policy

The story of a nurse who lied in order to gain employment in a major New Zealand hospital has come to light in recent months. Her application was riddled with lies including false referees, claiming she was “Employee of the Month” at her previous workplace (which she was actually fired from), and stories of her saving a man suffering from a heart attack on a busy Auckland road. The nurse also had a previous criminal conviction for dishonesty which she did not disclose to her employer.

lies4The woman also became pregnant during her employment and created a series of lies around her pregnancy. She claimed she was pregnant with twins and the babies died after she fell down some stairs. In reality, she never fell down any stairs and was pregnant with only one baby whose birth she hid from her employer. She supported her lies with a fabricated certificate from her midwife.

Incompetency and dishonesty were rampant throughout her time as a nurse in New Zealand. One of her patients never received their inhaler despite her paperwork stating they had, and upon questioning she claimed she had “slipped”. She gave another patient the wrong dialysis treatment and medication went missing that she never reported.

In March 2016, her web of lies was found out and the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal stripped her of her right to practice as a nurse. Her name is currently suppressed but will most likely be made public shortly.

While the nurse’s lies are certainly alarming, so is the negligence of the numerous hospitals who offered her employment. The employer never bothered to check the referees provided by the dishonest nurse. If they had, they would have uncovered them as false and most likely saved themselves the problems caused by employing her. Employers should always undertake appropriate checks before employing.

This case highlights the importance of asking the right questions and thoroughly screening employees before offering a job. The recent decision of the Employment Relations Authority in Hart v Printlounge Ltd, discussed the same issue. In that case a prospective employee was asked whether he had any criminal convictions to which he replied “no”. In reality he had a number – including murdering a woman. The conviction was later discovered and the employee was fired.

He raised a personal grievance against the employer for unjustified dismissal. The Authority found the dismissal to be unjustified because the employer had not followed a proper procedure when deciding whether to dismiss the employee. However, the compensation that would usually be awarded to a wronged employee was reduced by 100% because he was to blame for the situation which gave rise to his personal grievance – his lies.

It is vital that employers ask the right questions before employing new staff.

Prospective employees do not have a general duty to voluntarily reveal material information about themselves, but if an employer requests such information, and the applicant for the job elects to answer, the answer must be full and honest. Depending on the nature and seriousness of a lie, the dishonesty can be viewed as a misrepresentation which induced the company to offer employment and has fundamentally injured the employer’s trust and confidence in the employee. Often extremely serious lying, such as concealing extensive criminal records, will entitle an employer to effectively cancel the employment agreement. However, even in such cases it is important that employers follow a fair process of investigation and communication with the employee in order to ensure the individual will not be able to bring a claim against them. Just as honesty is the best policy for employees, diligence and proactivity provides the best protection for employers.