Performance Perspectives Blog

Misleading information is legal?

by | Jul 3, 2012

While a great deal of attention was paid to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Obamacare this past week, another ruling should garner some interest, too: their conclusion that the 2006 Stolen Valor Act infringes on speech protected by the First Amendment. This means that individuals can falsely claim they won military decorations. As you might imagine, lots of folks are quite upset by this.

We encounter misrepresentations often, do we not? I recall getting a resume from someone once who claimed he was a Harvard graduate. After hiring him we learned (through a background check) that while he did manage to spend one semester at Harvard, he neither graduated from Harvard nor had a degree whatsoever; he was terminated as this was merely one of the fabrications in his resume.

Some folks use job titles which they actually do not have; they apparently like them better than their real ones. I knew a salesman who had “vice president” on his business card, even though he wasn’t a VP; his justification was that it helped him sell. On the other hand, my Uncle Joe (everyone has one, right?) was a safe deposit vault attendant for First Pennsylvania Bank, and he would sometimes say he was “vice president of mops and brooms.” Granted, it was clear that he was kidding; some folks aren’t in their use of incorrect titles.

The greatest example of misrepresentation is clearly Bernie Madoff; at least in recent memory. Sadly, he managed to fool a lot of people for a very long time.

Rules such as the UAPS (Universal Advisor Performance Standards and GIPS(R) (Global Investment Performance Standards) exist so that individuals can provide performance information in a way that doesn’t misrepresent. As Mike Alfred of Brightscope (who is working with The Spaulding Group on the UAPS) stated in an interview with WSJ’s Jason Zweig, “Any industry that achieves high credibility across society has consistent standards for reporting outcomes so that a third party can judge whether you’re doing a good job or not.” Misrepresentation, regardless of whether it is protected by the free speech amendment, has long been found to be unwanted.

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