Guy Guinan As competition for jobs gets tougher, more candidates are embellishing their CVs. But it’s the employer who’ll be for the high jump if one of them subsequently messes up

The unprecedented levels of economic difficulty in the past couple of years have been coupled with rapidly increasing competition for jobs in the construction sector as firms shed staff. As a result, more and more of those workers left to fight it out for what jobs are going have been embellishing their CVs by exaggerating their skills, claiming greater experience than they have and even hiding criminal convictions. And because employers often lack the time to carry out sufficient background checks, it is easier than ever for workers to “blag it”.

Even before the recession hit, a study carried out by the Risk Advisory Group, a “pre-employment screening company” showed that half of all CVs contained lies and one in five included serious misrepresentations.

Those percentages can only have got worse in the meantime. What’s more, if managers do not undertake sufficient checks on new staff, they could be taking on inexperienced or unqualified staff in what is widely regarded as the most dangerous industry in the UK. Such health and safety breaches could in turn cost employers a heavy fine, a criminal conviction and a prison sentences – not to mention putting the lives of other employees and members of the public at risk. So is it really worth taking the risk of not properly vetting potential employees before they are let loose on site? After all, it should be standard practice to carry out checks on qualifications, previous jobs and levels of experience in the recruitment process, and a failure to do so will not look good for an employer’s defence in court should a health and safety breach occur.

The process need not be costly or take up a great deal of time. Workers should be asked to bring qualification certificates with them to interviews, and if there is any doubt over their authenticity, enquiries should be made as to whether that qualification has been earned. References should be taken up before the applicant starts work and previous employers asked specifically to confirm the candidate’s level of experience and the length of their employment.

It would seem that employee fraud does not stop at securing a job, either. Over the course of 2009, instances of employees helping themselves to anything from materials or tools to confidential customer and supplier details have risen. Employers must respond to this by taking adequate steps to protect their building materials and tools, and any commercially sensitive information such as contract details with suppliers or clients.

Those cases that do get to court come with negative publicity as a matter of course. This may be why so many settle quietly

The number of cases of fraud in the industry is largely unknown because so few make it as far as the courts. Those cases that do get settled in court are often high profile and come with negative publicity attached as a matter of course. This may be the reason why so many employers choose to settle quietly.

Should the worst happen and you uncover instances of employee fraud in your company, these workers must be dealt with severely. Employers will be well within their rights to dismiss the employee(s) instantly and any subsequent claims for unfair dismissal brought by them against you for doing so are unlikely to be dealt with seriously unless you have no concrete proof that the employee who you dismissed was committing fraudulent activities.

As such, ensure that you have strong documented evidence of the activities in question to protect yourself should a claim for unfair dismissal be brought. And, if you can prove these activities adequately, then you are within your rights to bring a claim for damages against that employee for any losses they have caused you.

However, be aware that your recruitment processes will be under scrutiny from the defendant’s side and you must be able to prove that you have adequate checks in place within your business to fight fraud, and that you had hitherto been satisfied that the worker in question satisfied those checks.

However, no matter what prevention measure are taken, levels of fraud will only begin to drop when managers and employers in the industry take it seriously and bring claims out into the open and into the courts.