RACHEL DOLEZAL: THE UNTOLD STORY AND ITS PLACE IN THE WORKPLACE

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The controversy surrounding Rachel Dolezal’s resignation from the NAACP and self-identification as African American amid conflicting reports of her race highlights the potential consequences of falsifying information on employment applications. 

Honesty: Is it the Best Employment Policy?

Dolezal’s case is unique in that it brings into question the idea of identity, however, representation in work records remains a commonly arbitrated issue.

Arbitrator Richard W. Dissen ruled in Howard Industries, 124 LA 1715, that the employer had just cause to discharge the grievant, who provided a false social security number on an employment application and omitted information about her previous employment with the company.

Upon discovering a closed personnel file with a different social security number, the employer questioned the grievant about the new number. The grievant asserted that it had changed upon marriage. The Social Security Administration, however, stated that it had never issued the first number, and that “the use of that number was likely fraudulent.”

The grievant admitted to falsifying the first social security number, stating that it had led to her previous resignation since she was unable to provide proper documentation. As a result of that falsified employment application, the employer discharged the grievant.

Dissen denied the grievance, finding that the grievant had been deliberately deceptive, and the employer’s “lack of prudence” did not guarantee the grievant’s continued employment. “An employer is entitled to rely on the accuracy of information contained in an employment application,” Dissen stated. Moreover, an employee who engaged in dishonesty must expect termination of employment, according to Dissen. 

Noting that “[t]here is no statute of limitations on the discovery of the falsification of employment records,” Arbitrator Richard E. Allen similarly ruled in Faurecia Interior Systems Inc., 124 LA 562, that the employer had just cause to terminate the grievant, who falsified his employment application by denying prior criminal convictions.

Though the grievant had been convicted of a crime, he denied this on the application by answering “’No’ to the question, ‘Have you ever been convicted of a crime …’” Based on specific warnings on the form, Allen found clear and convincing evidence of the grievant’s understanding that false representations would result in discharge, even if discovered post-hiring.

Allen stated that falsification of records constituted a serious matter given the existence of a “long standing practice that employees must always be truthful in their relationship with their employer.” Failure to disclose truthful information “amounts to obtaining employment under false pretenses,” according to Allen. 

Holding that ample arbitral authority supports the conclusion that falsification of employment records is sufficient to sustain just cause discharge, Arbitrator Allen denied the grievance.

The Truth about Getting Away with It

The majority of arbitration awards uphold the employer’s discharge or discipline of employees who falsify information in work records, however, an employee may be able to avoid same in limited circumstances.

Arbitrator Shyam Das ordered the reinstatement of a grievant in U.S. Steel, 131 LA 1061, where the grievant denied health problems on his employment application and asserted later that he completed the Health Inventory “to the best of his ability and memory at the time,” despite the grievant reporting off work due to medical issues and medical testimony suggesting that the grievant likely suffered with those issues at the time of the form submission.

Relying on the 50-year-old grievant’s age and 30-year employment history, Das stated that “someone who has performed physical labor for that period of time is likely to have ‘aches and pains’ that may be accepted and overlooked as a normal part of aging.” Das held that, because the grievant was not “guilty of deliberate material falsification,” his discharge was not justified.

Similarly, Arbitrator Joseph L. Daly ruled in Xcel Energy, 128 LA 289, that the employer did not have just cause to discharge the grievant, who lied on two separate job applications and during a theft investigation at the company, where he omitted a misdemeanor charge but reported a more serious felony charge, and his assertion that he had not been arrested in 20 years, when it was actually 17 years, constituted a miscalculation.

Accordingly, these cases are distinguishable from those in which a grievant deliberately misled the employer in order to obtain employment under false pretenses.

The Award Goes to the Employer

A review of data provided by Bloomberg BNA's Arbitration Award Navigator shows that of the 213 arbitration awards involving falsification of employment applications or work records, the employer prevailed in 62.4% of cases, the union prevailed in 23% of cases, and 14.6% of cases involved mixed prevailing parties.

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Honestly, there’s no denying that honesty might just be the best policy in the workplace.