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Falsely Reporting Credentials on Job Applications: Legal Issues

Falsely Reporting Credentials on Job Applications: Legal Issues

Lying on a job application about your credentials like education or work experience is surprisingly common. A recent survey found that over half of applicants admit to stretching the truth to some degree. With strong competition for good jobs, it’s tempting to embellish accomplishments in hopes of standing out. However, false credentials can have serious legal consequences if discovered.

Common Types of Application Fraud

Many applicants fudge details about their education or work history to appear more qualified. Common lies include:

  • Claiming a fake degree or credentials
  • Exaggerating attendance or graduation dates
  • Fabricating or embellishing work experience
  • Lying about skills or responsibilities

While motives are usually to get a leg up, lies can quickly spiral out of control. It’s shockingly easy to fake transcripts and diplomas with modern technology. Some brazen applicants even purchase counterfeit degrees from diploma mills to back lies on a resume.

Potential Legal Issues and Liability

Getting caught lying on an application can ruin job prospects, but legal issues often follow as well. Common problems include:

Civil Liability

An employer can sue for fraud if they relied on lies about credentials when hiring or determining compensation. Damages may include the costs of finding a replacement and lost profits . Large settlements over $100k are not uncommon for executive roles. Even small businesses have won five-figure judgments.

Criminal Charges

Falsely claiming educational credentials or licenses can potentially lead to criminal liability for fraud in some states. Charges are more likely if lies directly endangered the public, like falsely claiming medical credentials . However, charges have been filed against college presidents and even public school principals as well .

Loss of Licenses and Certifications

Many licensed professions have ethical rules barring fraudulent credentials. Getting caught lying can trigger disciplinary action jeopardizing necessary licenses. For example, teachers have lost certifications over resume fraud about degrees or academic honors .

Defenses and Mitigating Factors

While application fraud can bring severe consequences, there are some defenses and mitigating factors that may reduce liability:

  • No Real Injury – If lies did not actually impact hiring or pay decisions, damages may be limited.
  • Minor Exaggerations – Stretching dates by a few months is usually not considered material.
  • Withdrawal – Admitting lies and resigning before discovery may convince an employer not to sue.
  • Duress – Losing a job and needing to support your family could potentially argue for leniency.

However, these defenses have limits and usually won’t prevent all legal issues or professional discipline. The safest policy is simply being truthful on job applications.

Avoiding Legal Trouble from Application Fraud

The best way to avoid legal headaches is not lying on resumes in the first place. However, if you have already stretched the truth, consider coming clean before trouble starts. Admitting errors and offering to resign shows integrity and may convince employers not to pursue legal action. Just be aware that loss of a job and reputation damage are likely outcomes.

Having an attorney review your situation is also wise if previously undiscovered lies are ever raised in a job termination or lawsuit. While rare, some applicants have successfully argued lies were not substantial enough to warrant legal consequences. But counting on legal defenses is risky at best.

The bottom line is falsifying credentials is never advisable. Honesty remains the best policy for job seekers. Work on developing skills to legitimately earn what your dream job requires. The effort will make you a stronger candidate in the long run.

The Takeaway on Lying to Get a Job

Resume fraud is a risky gambit with real legal downsides. Getting caught lying about credentials like education or work history can lead to lawsuits, fines, criminal charges and loss of professional licenses. While defenses exist in some cases, honesty and personal integrity will always be valued in employees. Develop real skills instead of faking qualifications to build a strong career.


  1. 2017 CareerBuilder survey on resume lies
  2. NOLO article on civil liability for lying during hiring
  3. New York Times article on doctor criminally charged for resume fraud
  4. CBS News article on college president criminally charged for fake credentials
  5. Washington Post article on teacher losing license over fake degree claims
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