To my knowledge, using protected post nominal letters that are related
to a professional organization, like M.D. or P.Eng. are enforced by
state/provincial organizations that can take legal action against
anyone using that title improperly. But with BA, BS, BBA, or others
there is no organization that protects these, so what are the legal
In the U.S., there is no generalized governmental regulation of degree quality. There are private accreditation bodies, and in some fields, a degree from an accredited institution from a body that the government recognizes as legitimate is necessary to obtain licensure.
This said, using post-nominal letters for an undergraduate degree would be a "yellow flag" in the U.S. and is rarely done (and when done is probably most often done for a Bachelor of Fine Arts, BFA, which presents particularly tricky questions of what is a legitimate degree or institution).
Likewise, one would need to distinguish between "degree mill" degrees and honorary degrees awarded by institutions to recognize someone's non-educational life achievements, rather than their earned degree work.
More often, in the U.S., a degree would be listed only in a resume or website biography.
Of course, this is strictly a matter of regional custom. In Tanzania, for example, it is common to use as many post-nominal letters are possible, often including post-nominal letters for a high school diploma and short certification classes (e.g. CPR training), as well as a primary professional certification, and it is common practice to include both a post-nominal professional certification and the degree qualifying one for it, rather than only the former as in the U.S. (e.g. "J.D., Esq.", rather than merely "Esq.")
Would using the post-nominal letters, B.A. be illegal in anyway?
If the person didn't actually get the degree from the degree mill, it would be fraud, but if they did get a degree, even from a dubious institution, it would be legal in the U.S.
Note that this is just how the law happens to be right now. The U.S. Fair Trade Commission (FTC) or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or a state deceptive trade practices act, could easily make it illegal to claim a degree from a degree mill without full disclosure that it is a degree mill (the law can't completely bar truthful speech under the 1st Amendment in the U.S.) by defining what sort of accreditation an institution must have to qualify to be described by an unexplained representation.
Would it give legal grounds for firing?
The vast majority of non-union, private sector, non-senior management employment in the U.S. (outside Montana) is employment at will. An employee at will can be fired at any time for any reason that is not a violation of a discrimination law (which this reason would not be).
If an employee were in a protected class and alleged discriminatory firing based upon membership in that class, and the employer asserted that the diploma mill degree was the reason for firing, which on its face is non-discriminatory and not based upon a protected class, a finder of fact would have to determine if the diploma mill degree basis for firing was sincerely the reason that the employee was fired, or was merely a pretext for an actual illegal discriminatory reason. If it was the sincere reason for firing someone rather than a discriminatory reason, the employer would not have employment discrimination liability.
The only ramification of firing someone without cause is that they are entitled to unemployment insurance benefits, which someone fired for cause, or someone who voluntarily quits, is not entitled to receive.
But the discovery that someone has a degree from a degree mill, while not illegal, might still be considered misleading enough to constitute good cause for firing, so unemployment eligibility if someone were fired for this reason in the U.S. (outside Montana which does not have employment at will and requires severance payments if someone if fired without sufficient grounds to do so) would be 50-50.
In Montana, in contrast, the Montana Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act passed in 1987 sets forth certain rights and remedies with respect to wrongful discharge. The act declares a discharge is wrongful for employees who would be employees at will in other states, only if:
It was in retaliation for the employee’s refusal to violate public policy or for reporting a violation of public policy;
The discharge was not for good cause and the employee had completed the employer’s probationary period of employment; or
The employer violated the express provisions of its own written personnel policy.
An employee’s failure to adequately perform the task for which they were employed, an employee’s negligence to working lawfully, the employer’s company being dissolved or the interruption of business for any other reason are all lawful excuses for firing an employee.
In Montana, for purposes of this statute:
"Good cause" means reasonable job-related grounds for dismissal based
on a failure to satisfactorily perform job duties, disruption of the
employer's operation, or other legitimate business reason. The legal
use of a lawful product by an individual off the employer's premises
during nonworking hours is not a legitimate business reason, unless
the employer acts within the provisions of 39-2-313(3) or (4).
It isn't obvious if an employee representing that the employee has a degree mill diploma in an application that is not fully disclosed would or would not qualify "good cause" so it would be determined on a case by case basis under the relevant case law (if any).
The remedy for wrongful discharge in Montana under the state act alone is a severance payment, rather than reinstatement or the greater damages awardable in a discrimination lawsuit.
What about suing for damages against a consultant?
Not clear what is being asked in this question. Who is the "consultant" in relation to whom?
If the "employee" were actually an independent contractor (i.e. a "consultant") for the "employer", the "employer" would not have grounds to sue the independent contractor based upon the degree representation (if factually true, even though it was deceptive) and the independent contractor would probably have grounds to sue for breach of contract if fired for this reason (unless the contract has a termination without cause provision). An independent contractor fired without cause is not entitled to unemployment insurance in the U.S. in most cases, outside the pandemic specific unemployment program for gig workers. Also, the "employer" would be hard pressed to show damages from the misleading representation.
Of course, there would also be exceptions. Under a variety of circumstances, when there are damages (e.g. if a client of the employer cancels its profitable contract with the employer upon learning that the employee providing high end consulting services to it had a degree from a degree mill) even a factually true statement that is misleading can be actionable. Among the circumstances where this can happen are:
State deceptive trade practices act often raise a higher bar.
Representations made to someone in a "confidential relationship" with the employee (e.g. a close relative, a parishioner at a church where the employee is a member of the clergy, a beneficiary of a trust where the employee is a trustee, etc.) are held to a higher standard.
Representations made in connection with the sale of securities (e.g. stocks and bonds of a business sold to a passive investor, in which the employee's credentials are listed in a way that tends to mislead) are held to a higher standard.
The employee actually knows that the employer has a misapprehension regarding where the employee got a degree (often degree mills have institution names that are confusingly similar to well respected colleges and universities) and fails to correct. For example, say that the employee got a bachelor of science in mathematics degree from "Columbia College" a for profit college in Aurora, Colorado, based upon three and a half years of "life experience" credit that wasn't even verified and three classes which 50 pages textbooks and an easy and short final exam with half a dozen basic high school level math questions each. But at an interview, the employer says, immediately after the employee names the institution from which the employee dot the degree, "so how did you like living in Manhattan for four years" (where the employee never lived, but where prestigious Columbia University is located). The employee might have a common law duty to disclose that the interviewer was confused.
On the other hand, there is a "shame on you, shame on me" aspect to the law of misrepresentation, where the employer can be faulted for failure to exercise due diligence regarding a point that is material to the employer.
Also, some sort of damages claim would be only authorized if the misleading statement was material. If the employee is a maid in a hotel, or flips burgers, it isn't material. If the employee is a management consultant who provides services on behalf of the employer, or a degree is listed as a job requirement in the posting for the position, it probably is material.
If the "consultant" were the person who helped the employee get the degree mill degree, or advised the employee to use it, the employee would have grounds to sue the consultant only if the consultant engaged in some sort of deceptive trade practice or misrepresentation in marketing the degree mill degree. It isn't impossible that such a suit could prevail (often degree mills are misleading themselves to potential purchasers of degrees).
But the OP has no facts that suggest this possibility and the degree mill probably has few assets from which a disgruntled consumer who prevails could collect.
Also, the degree mill would have a credible defense that it didn't claim accreditation from an institution that didn't accredit it (if true, not that often degree mills create bogus accreditation organizations to endorse them), and that the employee was not justified in relying on the belief that a degree obtained without doing real college quality work for a nominal price would be treated the same as a degree from an ordinary college with a respected accreditation body.
Comparative Law, In General
Some countries are much less lax about claims of degrees than the U.S.
For example, in Germany (and a number of neighboring central European countries like Austria and the Czech Republic) representations about degrees earned are highly regulated and it is usually both a crime and a tort to violate those regulations, and there have been a number of high profile cases of misrepresentations of this kind in business and among elected officials. This is in the context of an economy where almost every occupation (even, e.g., waiting tables in a restaurant in some places) requires a professional certification, regulation of business is more pervasive, and free speech protections are not as absolute.
In the 19th century and early 20th century, U.S. and U.K. legal protections for employees were weaker, and regulation of fraud was even more lax than it is today, so the likelihood of a legal remedy for any party in this situation was even smaller. Many countries in the developing world have levels of economic regulation, in practice at least, similar to the U.S. and U.K. in the 19th century.
Canada doesn't have employment at will for non-management, non-union, private sector employees who have been employed for at least twelve months, so the "unjust dismissal" analysis or wrongful dismissal analysis there would be different.
Federally regulated employers in Canada are subject to the "unjust dismissal" regimes below (which the grounds undefined for the most part and a reinstatement remedy possible), while other employees are entitled to remedies for wrongful dismissal (for which reinstatement is not a possible remedy). The federally regulated employees are:
Grain elevators, feed and seed mills, feed warehouses and grain-seed cleaning plants
First Nations Band Councils
Most federal Crown corporations, for example, Canada Post Corporation
Port services, marine shipping, ferries, tunnels, canals, bridges and pipelines (oil and gas) that cross international or provincial borders
Radio and television broadcasting
Railways that cross provincial or international borders and some short-line railways
Road transportation services, including trucks and buses, that cross provincial or international borders
Telecommunications, such as, telephone, internet, telegraph and cable systems
Uranium mining and processing and atomic energy
The Canadian Unjust Dismissal statute is as follows:
240 (1) Subject to subsections (2) and 242(3.1), a person who has been
dismissed and considers the dismissal to be unjust may make a
complaint in writing to the Head if the employee
(a) has completed 12 consecutive months of continuous employment by an
(b) is not a member of a group of employees subject to a collective
(1.1) A person shall not make a complaint under subsection (1) if they
have made a complaint that is based on substantially the same facts
under either subsection 246.1(1) or 247.99(1), unless that complaint
has been withdrawn.
(2) Subject to subsection (3), a complaint under subsection (1) shall
be made within ninety days from the date on which the person making
the complaint was dismissed.
(3) The Head may extend the period set out in subsection (2)
(a) if the Head is satisfied that a complaint was made in that period
to a government official who had no authority to deal with the
complaint but that the person making the complaint believed the
official had that authority; or
(b) in any circumstances that are prescribed by regulation.
241 (1) If an employer dismisses a person described in subsection
240(1), the person who was dismissed or the Head may make a request in
writing to the employer to provide a written statement giving the
reasons for the dismissal, and any employer who receives such a
request must provide the person who made the request with such a
statement within 15 days after the request is made.
(2) On receipt of a complaint made under subsection 240(1), the Head
must endeavour to assist the parties to the complaint to settle the
(3) If a complaint is not settled under subsection (2) within the
period that the Head considers to be reasonable in the circumstances,
the Head must, on the written request of the person who made the
complaint that the complaint be referred to the Board, deliver to the
Board the complaint made under subsection 240(1), any written
statement giving the reasons for the dismissal provided under
subsection (1) and any other statements or documents that the Head has
that relate to the complaint.
(4) If the person who made the complaint does not reply to a written
communication from the Head within a period that the Head considers to
be reasonable in the circumstances and a period of at least 30 days,
or any longer period that may be prescribed by regulation, have
elapsed from the day on which the complaint was made, the Head may
give written notice to the person who made the complaint that they
have the period of 30 days, or any longer period that may be
prescribed by regulation, set out in the notice to make a written
request that the complaint be referred to the Board.
(5) Subject to the regulations, if the person who made the complaint
does not, within the period set out in the notice, make a written
request that the complaint be referred to the Board, the Head may deem
the complaint to be withdrawn.
241.1 (1) If the Board is satisfied that the complainant must take measures before the Board may continue to deal with the complaint
referred to it under subsection 241(3), it may, at any time, suspend
consideration of the complaint, in whole or in part.
(2) If the Board suspends consideration of a complaint, the Board
shall notify the complainant in writing and specify in the notice
(a) the measures that the complainant must take; and
(b) the period within which they must take those measures.
(3) The suspension ends when, in the Board’s opinion, the measures
specified in the notice have been taken.
241.2 (1) The Board may reject a complaint referred to it under subsection 241(3), in whole or in part,
(a) if the Board is satisfied that
(i) the complaint is not within its jurisdiction,
(ii) the complaint is frivolous, vexatious or not made in good faith,
(iii) the complaint has been settled in writing between the employer
and the complainant,
(iv) there are other means available to the complainant to resolve the
subject matter of the complaint that the Board considers should be
(v) the subject matter of the complaint has been adequately dealt with
through recourse obtained before a court, tribunal, arbitrator or
(b) if consideration of the complaint was suspended under subsection
241.1(1) and if, in the Board’s opinion, the measures specified in the notice under subsection 241.1(2) were not taken within the specified
(2) If the Board rejects a complaint, it shall notify the complainant
in writing, with reasons.
(3) Subject to subsection (3.1), the Board, after a complaint has been
referred to it, shall
(a) consider whether the dismissal of the person who made the
complaint was unjust and render a decision thereon; and
(b) send a copy of the decision with the reasons therefor to each
party to the complaint and to the Minister.
(3.1) No complaint shall be considered by the Board under subsection
(3) in respect of a person if
(a) that person has been laid off because of lack of work or because
of the discontinuance of a function; or
(b) a procedure for redress has been provided under Part I or Part II
of this Act or under any other Act of Parliament.
(4) If the Board decides under subsection (3) that a person has been
unjustly dismissed, the Board may, by order, require the employer who
dismissed the person to
(a) pay the person compensation not exceeding the amount of money
that is equivalent to the remuneration that would, but for the
dismissal, have been paid by the employer to the person;
(b) reinstate the person in his employ; and
(c) do any other like thing that it is equitable to require the
employer to do in order to remedy or counteract any consequence of the
243 (1) Every order of the Board is final and shall not be questioned
or reviewed in any court.
(2) No order shall be made, process entered or proceeding taken in any
court, whether by way of injunction, certiorari, prohibition, quo
warranto or otherwise, to question, review, prohibit or restrain the
Board in any proceedings under section 242.
244 (1) Any person affected by an order of the Board under subsection
242(4), or the Head on the request of such a person, may, after 14
days from the day on which the order is made, or from the day provided
in the order for compliance, whichever is later, file in the Federal
Court a copy of the order, exclusive of reasons.
(2) On filing in the Federal Court under subsection (1), an order of
the Board shall be registered in the Court and, when registered, has
the same force and effect, and all proceedings may be taken in respect
of it, as if the order were a judgment obtained in that Court.
245 For the purposes of this Division, the Governor in Council may
(a) defining the absences from employment that shall be deemed not to
have interrupted continuity of employment;
(b) prescribing circumstances for the purposes of paragraph 240(3)(b);
(c) prescribing periods for the purposes of subsection 241(4);
(d) prescribing the circumstances under which a complaint is not to be
deemed to be withdrawn under subsection 241(5); and
(e) prescribing the conditions that are to be met before a complaint
may be deemed to be withdrawn under subsection 241(5).
246 (1) No civil remedy of an employee against his employer is
suspended or affected by sections 240 to 245.
(2) Section 189 applies for the purposes of this Division.
The statute itself is vague concerning what constitutes "unjust dismissal".
Apart from federally regulated employees, in Canada, a private sector employer who is not federally regulated has the right to terminate a non-union employee in one of two ways:
a) for cause without notice (getting fired), without payment of a severance package.
b) termination without cause, after giving the employee reasonable notice or payment of severance package.
One of the main relevant statutes is Canada’s ESA (Employment Standards Act) (British Columbia's version is here). The operative section of the statute states:
Liability resulting from length of service
63 (1)After 3 consecutive months of employment, the employer becomes
liable to pay an employee an amount equal to one week's wages as
compensation for length of service.
(2)The employer's liability for compensation for length of service
increases as follows:
(a)after 12 consecutive months of employment, to an amount equal to 2
(b)after 3 consecutive years of employment, to an amount equal to 3
weeks' wages plus one additional week's wages for each additional year
of employment, to a maximum of 8 weeks' wages.
(3)The liability is deemed to be discharged if the employee
(a)is given written notice of termination as follows:
(i)one week's notice after 3 consecutive months of employment;
(ii)2 weeks' notice after 12 consecutive months of employment;
(iii)3 weeks' notice after 3 consecutive years of employment, plus one
additional week for each additional year of employment, to a maximum
of 8 weeks' notice;
(b)is given a combination of written notice under subsection (3) (a)
and money equivalent to the amount the employer is liable to pay, or
(c)terminates the employment, retires from employment, or is dismissed
for just cause.
(4)The amount the employer is liable to pay becomes payable on
termination of the employment and is calculated by
(a)totalling all the employee's weekly wages, at the regular wage,
during the last 8 weeks in which the employee worked normal or average
hours of work,
(b)dividing the total by 8, and
(c)multiplying the result by the number of weeks' wages the employer
is liable to pay.
(5)For the purpose of determining the termination date under this
section, the employment of an employee who is laid off for more than a
temporary layoff is deemed to have been terminated at the beginning of
(6)If, after 3 consecutive months of employment, an employee gives
notice of termination to the employer and the employer terminates the
employment during that notice period, the employer is liable to pay
the employee an amount equal to the lesser of
(a)an amount in money equal to the wages the employee would have
earned for the remainder of the notice period, or
(b)an amount in money equal to the amount the employer is liable to
pay on termination.
Like "unjust dismissal", the term "just cause" for a dismissal is not well defined in the statute itself, although case law and regulations may provide further guidance.
The act prohibits misleading statements by an employer in hiring, but doesn't expressly regulate misleading statements by an employee in hiring.