Worker sentenced to 150 hours’ community service for witholding previous convictions

A former GP practice manager has been sentenced to 150 hours’ community service after failing to disclose her previous convictions to a new employer.

In February 2008, Brenda Ward was sentenced to 20 months in prison for stealing £38,000 from the Wem and Prees GP surgery in Shropshire through false travel expenses, salary payments and overtime payments. But when she applied for a new job at the First Care Practice in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, she failed to declare this conviction.

In October 2009, First Care suspended Ward after the company learned of her criminal record, and she was dismissed a week later for gross misconduct.

Ward pleaded guilty to charges under sections two and three of the Fraud Act, covering false representation and failing to disclose information.

The judge at Birmingham Crown Court described her as “fundamentally dishonest”.

Ward also had two previous convictions for a £110,000 fraud in 1992 while she worked for the National Farmers Union, and in June 2009 she received a 36-week suspended prison sentence for not declaring her criminal conviction when she applied for another practice manager position at Ashfield Surgery in Sutton Coldfield.

John Read, an employment law editor at XpertHR, said: “This case will serve as a warning that job applicants with unspent criminal convictions face severe consequences if they don’t disclose them when asked by their prospective employer.

“Employers also need to make sure that they always ask whether the employee has unspent convictions, and for some roles – for example, in the health and care sectors – employers are also allowed to ask about spent convictions.

“Although this case involved the NHS, the issues that arise equally pertain to private sector employers,” he added.

Guy Lamb, an employment partner at law firm DLA Piper, added if an employer asked a job candidate to reveal any unspent convictions, but the information was knowingly withheld and was relevant to the job, then the employer would most likely be entitled to dismiss that individual.

Malcolm Taylor, the West Midlands operational fraud manager at the NHS Counter Fraud Service which uncovered Ward’s actions, told Personnel Today the withholding of information during interviews and applications was “a significant problem”, especially during the current climate when the jobs market was more competitive.

“In this particular moment in time, with the economic situation as it is, people will take their chances on telling the truth at interviews and not disclosing certain information, and likewise with false qualifications,” he said.

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