Barry Bremen, known to sports fans as The Great Imposter, died on June 30. While the name may not be familiar, you may remember his gate-crashing pranks during the late 1970s and 1980s.
Bremen first made headlines in 1979 when he donned a Kansas City Kings uniform, snuck onto the floor, and participated in pre-game warm-ups at the NBA All-Star Game. Later that year, clad in a New York Yankees uniform, he got on the field and shagged flies for half an hour at the Major League Baseball All-Star game. He nearly made it into the American League team photo before he was caught.
Bremen gained even more notoriety when he posed as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. But perhaps his most-famous stunt was crashing the 1985 Emmy Awards and going on stage to accept the Best Supporting Actress award for Hill Street Blues’ Betty Thomas, who was late getting out of her seat.
Bremen’s other famous exploits included: sneaking on the course and playing practice rounds at three U.S. Open golf tournaments; dressing as an umpire and participating in the pre-game umpire meeting at the 1980 World Series; and posing as a referee at the 1980 Super Bowl. His fun-loving stunts garnered him an appearance on “The Tonight Show” and a profile in People magazine.
It was obvious Bremen just wanted to have some harmless fun. And most of the athletes, some of whom even served as accomplices, seemed to enjoy his antics.
It’s not fun or harmless, however, when a job applicant pulls the wool over your eyes in order to land a job with your company. Resume fraud is rampant. Studies show that 25 to 50 percent (or even more) of job seekers provide false information to prospective employers. This presents practical as well as legal problems. Hiring unqualified employees leads to poor job performance and higher turnover. Dishonest applicants also raise obvious concerns about security, corporate accountability, and overall legal liability.
For high-level positions, resume fraud can also result in embarrassment and unwanted public attention to the employer. Several years ago RadioShack found itself in the headlines when a newspaper reported that its CEO’s resume boasted about two college degrees he didn’t really have. And who can forget the forced resignation of Notre Dame football coach George O’Leary amidst charges he lied on his resume?
There a several steps you can take to detect misrepresentations before applicants are hired, and minimize liability when you fire an employee if you later discover he or she lied during the application process. A little work on the front end can reduce headaches and legal problems later on, saving you money in the long run.
- Require all applicants to fill out and sign an application. The application form should require them to disclosure their complete employment history, and detail the reasons they left prior jobs. The application form should also include a statement in which applicants represent that the information they are providing is accurate and complete (don’t forget the “complete” part), and acknowledge their understanding that failure to provide accurate and complete information in the application or otherwise during the hiring process is cause for denial of employment or, if discovered later, immediate discharge.
- Make applicants sign waivers authorizing educational institutions and former employers to release information about the applicant to you, and allowing you to verify this information. Then actually check with schools, past employers, references, and licensing agencies to confirm that the information provided by the applicant is accurate. If you use a third party to perform background checks for you, make sure to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act's requirements. Obviously, not every position you fill requires the same level of scrutiny, so tailor the scope of your background check to the position.
- Coach HR and hiring managers to be alert for signs of possible fraud, such as gaps in employment history, omission of specific dates, and discrepancies. (In one study, screeners who were told beforehand that 40 percent of applicants lie on their applications spotted false information at a rate seven times higher than screeners who didn't receive such a warning.) Teach interviewers to ask probing questions about omissions or suspicious information in applications.
- Establish a policy that misrepresentations discovered after an employee is hired will result in discharge.
- If you discover that a current employee made misrepresentations during the hiring process, act promptly. But be fair. As with all termination situations, thoroughly investigate the matter, and then meet with the employee to give him or her an opportunity to explain his or her side of the story.