One of the staples of the little kid lexicon is the expression “liar, liar, pants on fire!” While there appears to be no direct correlation between flaming trousers and someone taking liberties with the truth, there does appear to be a common correlation between lying at work and getting fired. It might have something to do with employers thinking that if they pay someone, they should be able to trust his or her word. Silly employers!
Even employers in significant positions of public trust occasionally find their employees’ britches burning. Case in point: Philip Mordick v. City of Dayton. In Mordick, the City of Dayton fired Mordick, a police officer, after he filed a false report of his whereabouts while he was on patrol. Mordick, 2nd Dist. 24663, 2012-Ohio-289 (for the full text of the Opinion:
Officer Mordick probably should have realized that his lie was likely to be discovered: he filed the false report in front of another officer, Officer Cash, while they were in the same police cruiser. When Officer Mordick left the cruiser, ostensibly looking for his wayward girlfriend, Officer Cash contacted their sergeant and informed him that she and Officer Mordick were not at the location that Officer Mordick had reported. The sergeant verified Officers Mordick and Cash’s location by tracking the cruiser’s GPS unit, confirming that Officer Cash was telling the truth and Officer Mordick had lied.
When Officer Mordick returned to the cruiser, he called the sergeant, who asked Officer Mordick where he really was. Officer Mordick admitted his true location. Then, Officer Mordick drove to the location where he had falsely claimed to be.
The City of Dayton charged Mordick with several violations of the Civil Service Rules and Regulations (the “Regs”) (basically the employee handbook for the City of Dayton police), including Rule of Conduct 8.5, which specifies:
No officer will knowingly falsify any report, document, or record or cause to be entered any inaccurate, false, or improper information on records, documents, or reports of the Department or of any court or alter any record, document, or report except by a supplemental report, document, or report. If an investigation reveals that an officer has violated this section, their employment with the Dayton Police Department will be terminated.
The City of Dayton found that Officer Mordick had violated the Regs and terminated his employment. That decision was affirmed by the Civil Services Board, the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, and now by the Second District Court of Appeals.
Most “pants on fire” cases are not this clear-cut. More importantly, not all policies plainly state that “if you lie about X, we will fire you.” The takeaway:
- For employees: lying at work is a bad idea, especially in front of a witness and in a GPS-equipped vehicle.
- For employers: when the evidence is clear that an employee was lying and you have a very carefully drafted policy specifying that the particular type of lie is grounds for termination, that is strong evidence in favor of termination. It might seem a little late in the year for New Year’s Resolutions, but it is always advisable to dust off the employee handbook and give it a fresh read.
Honesty is always the best policy, especially when that policy is clearly spelled out in writing…