5 Things to Know before Taking a Lie Detector Test
Did your employer ask you to take a lie detector test? What are your rights, and do you have to comply with their request? Plenty of thoughts are running around your mind about the test’s potential outcome and how it will affect your career.
Relax, these are normal, and most people respond this way. However, it pays to prepare yourself for the polygraph and what it entails. We curated this list of five things you need to know before sitting down in the polygraph exam room.
Hopefully, by the time you finish reading through them, you’ll better understand the polygraph exam and what to expect from the process.
#1 Your Rights
Polygraphs and the EPPA
As an employee, you have rights afforded to you by “The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988” (EPPA). The EPPA is legislation written into law by President Ronal Reagan near the end of his term in office. This legislation still applies to the polygraph industry today, and employers and polygraph examiners must comply with it.
If the employer violates the terms and conditions outlined in the EPPA, they expose themselves to massive financial liability. Any employee who feels their employer didn’t meet the requirements of the EPPA has a right to seek legal advice and file a complaint with the US Labor Department, which enforces the Act.
What are the Employer’s Responsibilities to You?
Your employer may not coerce you or intimidate you into taking a polygraph exam. Doing so would place them in violation of the act. However, they do have the right to ask you if you’re willing to participate in a lie detector test, provided they stay within the guidelines of the EPPA.
The employer must meet with legal counsel and an independent polygraph examiner to create the documents and line of questioning in compliance with the EPPA legislation. Some of the basic conditions of the EPPA include giving you at least 48 hours notice of their intention to polygraph you.
The employer must clearly explain the parameters of the polygraph test to you and issue you with a copy of the questions the examiner asks you during the test. There are several paperwork hoops the employer must jump through to execute the polygraph policy.
What Is the Role of the Examiner Pre-Exam?
The role of the examiner in a polygraph is twofold. First, they must assist the employer with structuring the polygraph policy to comply with the EPPA. They’ll work closely with your employer and attorney to ensure everything is above board.
The second role of the examiner pre-exam is to make you feel at ease with the polygraph process. The examiner is not an authority figure, and they have no influence over you or your decisions. They must make you comfortable by answering our questions before the exam.
Do You Have to Comply with the Employer’s Request?
No. You don’t have to comply with your employer’s request to participate in a polygraph exam. The EPPA specifically states that you have the right to refuse their request, and you don’t have to give them a reason for making that decision. The employer may not intimidate you into taking the test, and they can’t reprimand or fire you if you choose not to participate.
#2 How the Polygraph Process Works
The pre-exam process involves the employer telling you their intention to polygraph you or other staff members at their company. As mentioned, they must comply with all the requirements of the EPPA and remain compliant with the legislation.
Before the exam, it’s recommended you look up the EPPA and its details. Review websites talking about polygraph exams and familiarize yourself with the process. These actions remove the nervousness and uncertainty involved with taking the lie detector test.
As You Enter the Exam Room
When you enter the exam room, the examiner will introduce themselves and run through your rights. They’ll give you an opportunity to ask them any questions to put your mind at ease. When you’re confident you’re ready to proceed, the examiner wires you to the polygraph instrumentation.
Understanding the Polygraph Equipment
The polygraph instrumentation involves two corrugated rubber tubes secured to your chest to measure your respiration rate. There’s a blood pressure cuff measuring your heart rate and blood pressure and three sensors attached to your fingertips to measure skin electrical activity and sweat gland activity.
Some polygraph examiners ask you to sit on a pad that detects movement during the exam. The instrumentation links to a control box and software module on the examiner’s laptop. The software interprets the signals from the instrumentation, presenting them in chart format on the laptop screen.
The Questioning Process
When you’re wired up to the polygraph and ready to go, the examiner starts asking you a series of questions presented to you in the pre-exam preparation. They won’t ask you any questions about your personal life or past behaviors. For instance, if you had an addiction problem three years ago, it won’t pertain to the questions asked by the examiner.
Your Physical and Emotional Response to the Situation
As you answer the questions, the examiner checks your physiological response through the software on their laptop. They’re looking for the activation of the “Fight-or-Flight” (FoF) response by the sympathetic nervous system. The FoF activates when we feel threatened and want to flee or defend ourselves in a situation.
We also activate the FoF when we lie, which is a sign of self-preservation. The sensitive equipment picks up these physiological changes, interpreting them as deceptive behavior. Your examiner has years of study and training in detecting deception, and if you’re lying, they’ll know.
After concluding the exam, the examiner lets you leave the room and thanks you for your time. They won’t disclose your test results or their impressions of your performance. The examiner reviews your test results back at their office and sends the employer their conclusions 48 to 72 hours after finishing their review.
#3 What to Do Before the Polygraph Exam
Research Polygraph Procedures
It’s fine for you to prepare yourself for the exam by researching polygraph procedures. However, don’t look into countermeasures for the exam. Countermeasures are strategies designed to evade detection by the polygraph if you’re lying.
Ask Questions to Get Comfortable
Your employer and the examiner have a duty to answer all your questions regarding the polygraph policy and procedure. You can ask them anything you want to make you feel comfortable with the situation. This process aims to relieve any pre-exam stress and anxiety you feel with the process.
Being comfortable with the polygraph exam makes the process much easier for you and for the examiner. Remember, the examiner has no authority over you, and they can’t force you to do anything, and neither can your employer.
Stick to Your Routine
Stick to your routine on the day before the exam and the day of the exam. Don’t do anything you normally wouldn’t do. Eat your normal meals at your regular time, and go to sleep and wake up to your normal schedule.
Acting outside of your normal routine results in changes to your mental state and nervous system. The subconscious notices these changes, priming the nervous system to initiate the FoF response and prepare it for action.
Meditate & Breathe
Get a good night’s sleep the night before the lie detector test. Many people find it challenging to get the shuteye they need to make them feel rested before exam day. However, don’t take any sleeping medication or supplements if they aren’t part of your normal sleep hygiene.
If you’re having trouble getting to sleep, download a guided breathing meditation from YouTube and listen to it. It will help to clear your mind, and you’ll find you get to sleep easier than if you toss and turn overthinking the test process and results.
#4 How to Behave During the Polygraph Exam
Be Polite & Courteous
When you enter the exam room, be courteous to the examiner. They’ll introduce themselves, and you can do the same. The examiner is not your enemy; they aren’t there to act as an authority figure or trip you up, hoping to find out that you’re lying.
The examiner’s job is to always remain impartial to the test outcomes. They don’t form an opinion of you beforehand and remain subjective throughout the testing process. So, don’t throw a fit or yell at the examiner; they don’t have to take that kind of abuse from you.
Tell the Examiner If You Feel Nervous
The examiner knows that everyone entering the exam room feels nervous. They expect you to feel some level of anxiety about the test, and they understand why you feel this way. If you feel anxious, tell the examiner, they’ll sympathize with you and do their best to make you feel comfortable with the process.
You have the right to get up and leave the exam room at any point during the polygraph test. The examiner has no authority over you, and they can’t demand that you stay. If you feel a panic attack coming on, tell the examiner to disconnect you from the polygraph, and they’ll comply right away. Don’t rip the instrumentation off you; that’s unprofessional.
Stick to Yes-or-No Answers
The examiner asks you questions, and you answer yes or no. You have no obligation to justify your answer, so stick to the yes-or-no format. However, if the examiner feels you’re acting deceptively with your answers, they’ll tell you so.
They’ll give you the opportunity to explain why the polygraph device might flag this behavior. You have the right to refuse to explain your answer, but it might impact your test results if you choose this path.
Keep Your Head
Stay calm in the exam room, act professional, and be polite. You can expect the same from the examiner. If you feel anxious before taking the test, listen to the guided meditation you downloaded the night before or use an app like Headspace to center yourself.
#5 What to Do After the Polygraph Exam
Don’t Request Your Results
The polygraph examiner doesn’t give you your test results after they excuse you from the exam room. Don’t ask the examiner for your results because they won’t know the exact conclusion just yet. The examiner analyzes the video recording of the session and your answers later at their office.
The examiner sends the results to your employer 48 to 72 hours after finishing the exam. Your employer may not share your test results with anyone but your manager; they don’t get a copy of your video recording or test results.
Take a Break to Clear Your Head
After you finish your lie detector test and the examiner excuses you from the room, it’s common for people to feel frazzled and confused. Your employer will likely allow you to take a short break from work to clear your head before you return to your post.
The employer has no obligation to let you go home unless they see the process caused you extreme duress and stress. If you decide to go home, the employer is entitled to deduct this time off from your annual leave.
What to Do If You Fail the Exam
If you find out that you failed your polygraph exam, you have a right to protest the results. Your employer may decide to retest you, and you have the right to deny or comply with that request. If you feel you were unfairly treated by the examiner or your employer, you can seek legal advice about the recourse available to you.
If the attorney determines you have a case against the examiner or your employer, they’ll file a complaint with the US Labor Department. The Department has a duty to investigate your case and bring the employer and examiner to justice if they break EPPA guidelines.
If you fail the polygraph, your employer doesn’t have the right to fire you or discipline you based on the results. They may not intimidate you at work or make the workplace conditions inhospitable in an attempt to make you resign.