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Is it a crime to lie on a resume or job application?

Is Lying on a Resume or Job Application a Crime?

This is a complicated question with no simple answer. Lying on a resume or job application is generally not a criminal offense in itself. However, in some cases it can lead to civil lawsuits or even criminal charges like fraud.

What the Law Says

There are no federal laws in the U.S. that specifically prohibit lying on a resume or job application. However, there are laws against fraud and misrepresentation that could apply in some cases:

  • The Federal False Statements Act makes it a crime to knowingly falsify or conceal a material fact in any matter within the jurisdiction of the federal government.
  • Most states have laws against employment fraud or misrepresentation. For example, in California it’s illegal under Penal Code Section 549 to use deception or false pretense to obtain employment.

So if you lie about something material on an application for a government job, you could potentially face federal charges. And some states might come after you civilly or criminally for lies related to private sector jobs as well.

When Lying Crosses the Line

Many resume fibs or exaggerations (like inflating responsibilities or skills) are unlikely to get you in legal trouble. But some lies could lead down a slippery slope:

  • Fake credentials: Claiming a degree or certification you never actually earned can constitute fraud in many cases.
  • False identity: Lying about your name, work authorization status, criminal record, or background check information often violates the law.
  • Covering up misconduct: Failing to disclose something like disciplinary action or termination for cause can also equate to fraudulent misrepresentation.

These types of direct, material lies are the ones most likely to trigger lawsuits or charges. The consequences depend on factors like:

  • – The specifics of the misrepresentation
  • – Whether it was intentional versus careless
  • – The policies of the company and state
  • – If the employer or others suffered any harm as a result

Potential Penalties

Getting caught lying on an application can lead to:

  • Civil lawsuit – An employer might sue over issues like negligent hiring or fraud, seeking compensation for financial harm.
  • Terminating employment – In most states, lying constitutes misconduct that justifies terminating even otherwise protected employees.
  • Criminal charges – Prosecutors might file charges related to forgery, identity fraud, or falsifying business records.
  • Future hiring fallout – Applicants get blacklisted for misrepresentation, even without lawsuits or charges.

The exact consequences depend on the circumstances, but many lies can have life-altering impacts:

  • – Fines reaching tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars
  • – Prison sentences ranging up to several years in length
  • – Permanent personal and professional damage

What to Do If You Lied

If you realize you made a mistake and lied on an application, consider taking these steps:

  1. Consult an employment attorney to understand your rights and risks.
  2. Carefully consider the ethical and legal implications before deciding how to proceed.
  3. If appropriate, disclose the issue proactively to the employer rather than waiting for it to surface.
  4. Be prepared for fallout, but know a prompt admission and apology can sometimes help.
  5. Learn from the experience and commit to total integrity moving forward.

Lying often starts out small but can snowball out of control. While the truth can be uncomfortable in the short term, it’s always the wisest choice in the long run.

The Takeaway

Resume puffery about things like skills or duties is generally not illegal in itself. But directly lying about credentials, background, past misconduct or other material facts can cross the line into fraud or misrepresentation.

In most cases, small exaggerations won’t get applicants into legal trouble. But bolder, intentional lies could potentially trigger lawsuits, termination, charges, fines and other life-changing consequences in some situations.

The smartest approach is simply to present an honest picture on applications. That avoids messy cover-ups, ensures a strong ethical foundation, and lets your true qualifications shine.


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