Hamilton woman faked cancer to get off work
Judge says her ‘distasteful' act was motivated by simple laziness, reports Belinda Feek .
A Hamilton woman faked qualifications to get a job and after a year's work couldn't be bothered with the daily grind, so pretended to have cancer.
But Caroline Marama Watene didn't stop there.
She then faked another degree to get a promotion.
The Times understands she went even further, shaving her head and losing weight to mirror cancer treatment symptoms, much to the distress of colleagues.
Watene, 36, applied for the job of customer service representative at the Te Awamutu branch of Te Wananga O Aotearoa in July 2006.
She was employed after drumming up a fake curriculum vitae claiming she had a diploma in Te Reo Maori from Waikato University.
But she'd had enough after a year's work.
The Hamilton District Court heard she accessed Waikato DHB letterhead and forged a document stating she had been diagnosed with cancer and outlined the various treatment programmes she would be subjected to.
She used her sick leave before using up her annual leave. The Wananga then granted her compassionate leave for her "illness", which would eventually total 93 days, worth more than $12,000.
In July 2011 Watene applied for the role of internet administrator.
However, a prerequisite was a degree in business.
Watene provided a false teaching degree from the University of Auckland and got the job.
She became pregnant in 2012 but claimed that cancer treatment may cause risks to her unborn child. However, she said she had booked a mastectomy for June 2012.
Around this time one of her colleagues went to visit her at hospital. She was not there and there were no records of her ever being there.
Watene's lawyer Hayley Carson said her client fully acknowledged the distress she caused to the Wananga and her former colleagues .
Watene, who now has a 1-year-old boy, had strong family support with her two sisters and brother-in-law in court.
She is now on a benefit and lives with her sister in Hamilton.
Mrs Carson said Watene was willing to pay the full amount of $30,003.88 reparation.
However, Judge Robert Spear ruled in the Hamilton District Court yesterday that Watene should only pay the $12,820.88 for the 93 days of compassionate leave.
The remaining amount was "not recoverable" as the Wananga should have taken reasonable steps to check her qualifications.
"This effectively is a case involving theft and what has been stolen is more the confidence and friendship that was given to you by your colleagues and supervisors at the Wananga," Judge Spear said.
"I am sure that they feel intensely betrayed by you and they have justification for doing so."
Judge Spear said pretending to have cancer was "particularly distasteful".
"There seems to be no reason why you did so except that you were too lazy to go to work to earn the wages that you were not entitled to."
A Te Wananga O Aotearoa spokesman said Watene's actions caused staff "major distress and hurt".
"[It was] instigated by a person who was willing to not only perpetuate a fraud against Wananga as an employer, but also against her work colleagues, many whom shared their heart and tears for a colleague and friend they had been led to believe was enduring harrowing health issues.
"We will continue to review and improve our systems to ensure we are doing all we can to uncover potentially fraudulent activity."
On two representative charges each of using a document for pecuniary advantage and forgery, Judge Spear sentenced Watene to nine months' home detention.
EMPLOYER SHOULD HAVE CHECKED
An employment expert believes a Hamilton judge was fair to say Te Wananga o Aotearoa should have done background checks on their beleaguered employee.
But Adecco national managing director Donna Lynch said it was a little rough to expect an employer to check new qualifications an employee claimed to have gained throughout their time in the job.
Ms Lynch said there had "definitely" been an increase in people supplying fake curriculum vitae in recent years.
In the Hamilton District Court yesterday, Judge Robert Spear declined to award reparation of nearly $18,000 in earnings for a promotion Caroline Watene earned by proffering a fake teaching degree.
"It could fairly be said, I believe, that your CV should have been subjected to some scrutiny and it is surprising that the wananga, an educational institute itself, did not undertake any steps at all to verify the matters on your CV," Judge Spear said.
Ms Lynch said it was prudent that employers did background checks on potential employees and there were a variety of online tools that could help them.
"We would always recommend the use of a thorough recruitment process . . . people make claims that are incorrect and sometimes it's desperation and sometimes it's just plain wanting to deceive," Ms Lynch said.
However, a Te Wananga O Aotearoa spokesman said while Watene's qualifications included fake degrees in tikanga and te reo Maori, they were not crucial to getting the job.
"Good customer service and communication skills were."