Does your employer want you to take a polygraph exam? If so, you probably feel nervous about what lies ahead. Learning you have to take a polygraph exam is an intimidating experience for anyone to wrap their mind around.
You start wondering if the examiner will ask you for personal details about your life or assuming they’ll do everything they can to make you fail the polygraph. You think about the embarrassment and shame you might feel if you fail and how it will influence the rest of your career.
Most of all, you worry about losing your job and the impact that has on your livelihood, living standards, and family. With all these thoughts running around in your mind, you start to feel nervous and anxious. Do you really need this stress in your life right now?
Relax; you have nothing to worry about, provided you have nothing to hide and tell the truth during the lie detector test. The polygraph is a misunderstood process, and many people have the same misconceptions about it as you.
In this post, we’ll bust these myths and clarify people’s common misconceptions about the polygraph process and its workings.
#1 The Examiner Is Trying to Catch You Out
The first thing people think about when they learn they have to take a polygraph exam is the threat it poses to their job security. This anxiety makes them overly cautious of the process, and they start to formulate a “me against the world” mentality surrounding the polygraph.
As a result, they walk into the exam room prepared for war. They see the examiner as the enemy and assume they’re there to catch them out in any lie they can to prove that they’re the bad guy the boss is looking for and the reason for them implementing the workplace policy.
However, that’s not the case. The examiner is not your enemy. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The examiner is a highly-trained, skilled professional – just like you. They understand that most of the people they’ll be interviewing that day will be innocent and have nothing to hide.
The examiner operates under a code of ethics they learn at polygraph school. Their training teaches them to always be fair, objective, and impartial. They aren’t trying to catch you out; they’re only interested in finding out if you plan to be deceptive in the answers to their questions.
#2 The Examiner Is an Authority
Another misconception about the polygraph is that the examiner acts as an authority during the lie detector test. They have visions of the movies they’ve watched where terrorists get grilled for hours in interrogations that end up with waterboarding and imprisonment.
They assume that the examiner is an authority, like a police officer, and they have to listen and do as their told during the exam. However, that’s not the case. The examiner has no authority over you during the lie detector test. You don’t have to comply with anything you don’t want to answer, and you can choose to stop the test at any point.
The examiner’s role is to carry out the test for the client. However, they also have a duty to you, the examinee. Before starting the test, the examiner will ensure you feel at ease and comfortable. They want you to feel relaxed because this mental state provides the best exam results.
#3 The Examiner Gives You Your Results When You Finish the Exam
When it’s all over, and the examiner tells you it’s the end, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief. However, don’t ask the examiner if you passed the test. They can’t tell you the result right away. The examiner’s work doesn’t end when you leave the exam room; it’s only phase one of the process for them.
If the examiner suspects you might be hiding something during the test, they’ll ask you about it. They’ll have to review your case further if you can’t provide a satisfactory answer that eliminates the deceptive result. The examiner returns the test data to their office, where they review it.
They’ll compare your answers with the visual recording they take of the session. During this phase, they look at your body language, examining it for deception. When the examiner finishes their work, they report their findings to your employer.
You won’t hear from the examiner again after finishing your test. The examiner relays their report to your boss, and it’s their responsibility to deliver the test results to you. In most cases, it takes around two the three days for the examiner to deliver the results to your employer.
#4 The Polygraph Test Can Involve Any Type of Question
The examiner and your employer go over the questions they’ll ask you in the exam before the test starts. They can only ask you questions relating to the reasons for the polygraph exam. You don’t have to worry about them digging into your personal life; they don’t have any interest in that.
The examiner understands that people live very different lives away from the workplace. What you do on your own time is your business. The questions they ask only pertain to why your boss calls for the polygraph.
They ask you questions to which you have to provide yes-or-no answers. They don’t ask you to explain things in detail. However, if they detect deception, they’ll stop the test and ask why you think the polygraph reads your response this way.
#5 You Can’t Leave the Polygraph Exam Room When the Test Starts
As explained, when you enter the exam room, the examiner has no authority over you. They can’t force you to do anything you don’t want to do during the exam session. You have the right to ask them to stop the lie detector test and allow you to leave the room.
If you make this request, the examiner will immediately end the session. They won’t try to convince you to stay or strap you down to the chair. This isn’t a CIA interrogation at Guantanamo Bay, and they won’t do anything to violate your civil rights or your bodily autonomy.
However, don’t get aggressive, rip off the instrumentation, and storm out of the room. The polygraph equipment is expensive and damaging. It is extremely disrespectful. Wait for the examiner to remove the instruments from your body, and you can leave.
#6 You Have to Participate in an Employee Polygraph Exam
Many employees assume they must participate in the polygraph exam if their employer requests it. However, that’s not the case. Your employer must comply with the legislation surrounding the “Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988” (EPPA).
President Ronal Reagan signed this Act into power in his final months in office. The Act outlines specific guidelines the employer must follow when implementing a polygraph policy in the workplace. If they violate the terms of the Act, you have legal recourse against them.
You can seek assistance from an attorney to file a complaint with the US Labor Department. The Labor Department assigns an agent to look into the merits of your complaint. There are severe consequences if they find your employer or the examiner violating the EPPA.
The Labor Department will financially penalize the employer for their transgression. The examiner realizes the consequences of this, and they won’t step outside the boundaries of the EPPA. If they do, and the Labor Department finds them violating the EPPA, it jeopardizes their career.
You have the right to deny your employer’s request to participate in the polygraph exam. They can’t bully you into participating, nor can they make life difficult for you at work if you deny their request. You might have a valid reason for not participating in the exam, such as an anxiety disorder. If you don’t feel like participating in the polygraph, you don’t have to.
#7 The Polygraph Exam Benefits the Employer More than the Employee
Many employees assume the polygraph policy benefits the employer more than the employee, but that’s not the case. Sure, the polygraph exam does help the employer get to the bottom of matters like significant thefts from their business, instances of fraud, claims of sexual harassment, and workplace drug abuse.
However, the EPPA favors the employee more than the employer. You have the power in the arrangement. As mentioned, your employer can’t force you to take the exam, and they can’t reprimand you for refusing to take the test. You have the right to leave the exam room at any time, and there’s nothing the examiner or your employer can do to stop you.
So, you have the power in the arrangement. The polygraph also benefits your employee experience. Your boss can only call for a polygraph under the circumstances threatening your company. By implementing the lie detector exam, the employer makes your workplace safer by weeding out the bad elements that may jeopardize the company’s operations.
The polygraph helps create an environment of trust in the workplace. Wouldn’t you feel more comfortable knowing that you’re working around other honest people with a sense of integrity? You benefit from an improvement in the employee experience through a safer work environment and working with people you know you can trust.
#8 Employers Can Use a Polygraph to Prevent Employment
Some people assume that employers can use polygraph policies however they see fit. However, the terms of the EPPA prevent them from acting haphazardly with their administration of the polygraph exam.
The EPPA prevents employers in the private sector from instituting pre-employment polygraph screening. Certain high-risk industries are exempt from the act, such as those involved with high-value asset transport, pharmaceutical manufacturing and distribution, and security.
However, if you’re not applying for a job with a company involved in these sectors, your prospective employer may not use polygraphs in their pre-employment screening process. Doing so would violate the EPPA, placing them at risk of an investigation into their hiring practices by the US Labor Department.
#9 The Employer Can Fire You for Failing a Polygraph
When employees learn they have to take a polygraph at work, many of them will panic at the thought. One of the biggest reasons for employee fear involving polygraph exams is that their employer can fire them if they fail the lie detector test.
They start wondering what will happen to their career and livelihood if they lose their job. It’s important to understand that the polygraph device is a highly sensitive and refined piece of equipment with a 97% accuracy rate. Even if you feel nervous when taking the test, the machine and the examiner can determine the difference between feeling anxious and trying to be deceptive.
Provided you have nothing to hide, you’ll pass the polygraph. Even if you fail., there’s little the employer can do about it. Your boss can’t fire you for failing the exam. It violates the EPPA, and they can get in serious trouble if they do. They also can’t intimidate you on the job or reduce your work experience to push you out of the company.
#10 If You Bite Your Tongue, You Can Beat the Lie Detector Machine
Plenty of posts on social media and internet forums discuss using “countermeasures” for the lie detector test. A countermeasure is a tactic guilty people use when taking the polygraph exam. These countermeasures involve strategies like biting your tongue or cheek before answering a question.
Other countermeasures might suggest taking Xanax before the test to limit your body’s fight-or-flight response to the examiner’s questions. The reality is none of these countermeasures work. Before the introduction of computerized systems and software to polygraph science, there was a time when they could fool the device.
However, technological advancements and upgrades to examiner training make it easy for examiners to see through the use of these countermeasures during the lie detector test. If the examiner detects you’re using a countermeasure, they’ll fail you immediately. Even the act of researching countermeasures with the intent of using them in the test is a violation, and you could end up failing the exam.
It’s fine to research the polygraph, just don’t do it with the intention of using it to “beat” the lie detector. You could wind up in a lot of trouble for it.