Can you fire an employee for lying?

Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

Can you fire an employee for lying?

To paraphrase Benjamin Disraeli – there’s three types of lie. Lies, damn lies, and statistics. We’ve all told one – be it a little white blunder or a massive, stinking deception. And whilst people in your private life may be quick to forgive a slip-up, employers could see things differently.

Lies in the workplace have the propensity to derail an organization, not to mention harm morale and lower productivity. A report from found that 30% of employees readily admitted to lying at work to escape a telling off, whilst 73% of workers said they’d bend the truth to protect the feelings of a colleague.

But what should employers do if they find out a worker has been lying to them?

HRD spoke to Brain McaDonald, partner at Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti LLP and speaker at Employment Law Masterclass Toronto, who explained the legal aspects of dismissing a deceptive employee.

“Lawmakers and adjudicators tend to see an issue such as dishonestly as going to the heart of an employment relationship. So when an employee is found to be dishonest, it counts as a big strike against them. Whether or not a lie on its own justifies grounds for ‘just cause’ termination is an interesting question. It depends a great deal upon what exactly they’re lying about and the magnitude of the lie. Is it a lie of omission or commission?

“While any lie is serious and will almost certainly justify discipline, whether or not it justifies termination depends on a number of factors.”

McDonald gave the example of a worker who was responsible for a production line. Something goes wrong with production and the worker claims to know nothing about the issues – however it’s later uncovered that they were untrue – that would be seen as a significant lie.

“If an employee outright lies to an employer’s direct question, that would be pretty major. However, once again, whether or not this is grounds for termination depends upon the individual characteristics of the case. If it’s an employee who has only been with the company for six months – that would probably justify firing them. But if it’s a veteran employee who’s been with the organizations for 30 years, it’s probably not going to hold up in court.”

Dishonesty can cover numerous aspects of an employee relationship. From time theft to fraud, there’s more to it than just lying.

“In these cases, there’s more serious consequences – regardless of length of service or prior behaviour. There’s a lot of cases which deal with the idea of ‘theft being theft’ – whether it’s $10 worth of stationary or $10,000 worth of equipment. This will only be exasperated if an employee is in a position of trust – and will be treated more severely.”

To hear more from Brian MacDonald and other leading Canadian employment lawyers, book your tickets to Employment Law Masterclass Toronto.

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