The workplace is a complex dynamic. Companies vary in size, from small businesses with a handful of staff to corporates with thousands of employees. Regardless of the size and scope of the company, businesses operate under a set of rules, usually laid out by management.

Along with defining the business’s methodology and approach, these operating procedures encompass staff values and behavior in the workplace. If the employer doesn’t have these policies in place, their staff has no requirement to adhere to guidelines, and the workplace becomes chaotic.

Organizations failing to implement staff and HR policies risk their staff becoming unruly, instituting problems like sexual harassment of their colleagues, theft, drug abuse, and other illicit behavior that has no place in the office or production floor.

By putting employee behavior and expectation policies in place, employers give their team a set of guidelines they can follow to ensure they don’t step out of line. These policies create a sense of respect and common courtesy between the staff, improving the employee experience.

If things go wrong at work, the employer must take action to rectify the situation. For instance, if one employee harasses another, the employer has the duty to reprimand the offender and console the victim.

Having employee policies in place helps to identify the right procedure required by the employer or management team when handling these types of discretions. So, can a polygraph policy benefit the employee experience and cultivate trust in the workplace? Does it have a place, or is it something employers should avoid?

When Is It Acceptable for Employers to Require a Polygraph?

Employers have several methodologies available when assessing candidates for a position and disciplining current employees. When it comes to new hires, background checks, credit checks, and proper employee screening are essential to ensure you’re getting a high-quality team member and not someone saddled with emotional or financial problems in their personal life.

For instance, if you run a jewelry business and discover a new candidate has a bad credit rating and collection judgments against their name, they might not be the best choice for the position. These individuals may have financial pressures in their life you’re unaware of. For instance, they could have a gambling problem causing them to extend their credit and wipe out their savings.

In this case, hiring the candidate could result in them stealing inventory from your company to cover their debts and service their gambling addiction. However, you won’t know this unless you do the correct background check in your pre-employment screening procedure.

Implementing a polygraph procedure into your pre-employment screening may seem ideal when reviewing the benefits. A polygraph will enable you to uncover if the candidate has a gambling or drug problem and if they’re hiding something you’re unaware could potentially damage your business.


Is it Legal to Use a Polygraph in Pre-Employment Screening?

Unfortunately, in this case, the jewelry store owner is not permitted to include a polygraph test in their pre-employment screening process. The Employee Polygraph Protection Act prevents most businesses from instituting the polygraph to assess new hires. In this case, the act considers the practice of using polygraphs as discriminatory against the candidate.

However, exceptions exist to this general rule stipulated in the Employee Protection Act. While you might not institute the polygraph test for a jewelry attendant, it’s a mandatory pre-employment policy for all government and law enforcement agencies. Institutions like the CIA, FBI, DOD, and local and state law enforcement run polygraph exams on new candidates.

While it’s a common occurrence to polygraph candidates in public institutions like those previously mentioned, the Employee Protection Act also allows exceptions for the private sector. Polygraph tests are approved for candidates entering job roles in pharmaceutical products manufacturing, distribution, and dispensing.

Certain candidates for positions in security firms, such as alarm companies and high-value armored transport businesses, may institute a mandatory polygraph test in their pre-employment process. Private companies may also institute polygraph procedures in their conditions of employment for specific circumstances.

For instance, a manufacturing business holding high-value inventory that’s easy to fence on the black market may use a polygraph when suspecting employee theft from the company. Or a financial organization may implement a polygraph policy to question employees they suspect of theft or embezzlement of client funds that may harm clients and damage the company’s reputation.

Likewise, companies dealing with sexual harassment claims or other severe instances of employee transgressions would not break the conditions of the Employee Protection Act by implementing polygraph testing for existing employees. However, it’s important to note there are strict restrictions regarding implementing polygraph exams in the workplace.

All employers should consult a qualified attorney when implementing a polygraph policy. If employers unlawfully conduct polygraphs on their staff, it exposes them to liability, with the employee suing them for a breach of the Employee Protection Act. Penalties may be severe for those companies that break employee confidence.


Who Is Legally Responsible for Conducting a Polygraph Test in the Workplace?

If a company consults with a competent and qualified legal professional and gets the go-ahead to implement a polygraph testing procedure in the workplace, it must follow specific guidelines. The employer themselves may not polygraph their employees.

Only a qualified examiner that’s licensed and bonded may conduct a polygraph exam in the workplace. The examiner will work independently or for an institution. In both cases, they must be registered with the relevant state authority allowing them to operate and conduct polygraph exams.

The examiner may only disclose the test results to specified individuals, such as the business owner. If an individual fails a polygraph, the business owner may not disclose the results to another employer. Doing so would violate the Employee Protection act and open the company to a liability suit.

Any employee asked the undergo a polygraph test for their job must determine if their employer has a legal right to make the request. If they don’t work in a position where a polygraph is a viable request from the employer. For example, if you work in a restaurant as a chef, and the boss wants to polygraph you because he suspects you of stealing inventory, you may deny their request.

If they insist on your taking the polygraph or fire you because you deny the request, you have legal options available to you. In this case, you would need to contact an attorney, who’ll lead you through filing a suit against your former employer.


What are the Benefits of Using a Polygraph in the Workplace?

Implementing a polygraph policy in the workplace has several advantages for the employer and their team. While many HR professionals state that a polygraph policy may cause problems with trust in the company, it’s quite the opposite. Some HR professionals may also affect the accuracy of the polygraph is not a certain indication of deception. It’s still a viable policy to institute in your organization.


Uncover Theft

A polygraph is an effective tool for preventing and uncovering theft in your company. If you operate a business with high-value products, like a jewelry store, implementing a polygraph policy can prevent your staff from considering stealing your merchandise. They’ll know that they have to undergo a polygraph if they steal goods, and the threat of this procedure may be enough to stop them from considering planning a theft.

It’s also an effective tool for uncovering a thief in your organization. Keeping with the jewelry example, if you suspect your employee is stealing merchandise, you can order them to take a polygraph, provided you list it in their conditions of employment in their contract when hiring them. If they refuse, there’s a good likelihood they’re the thief, and you have recourse to fire them for refusing to take the polygraph.

However, if you test the employee and they come up as the suspected thief, it’s important to note that the results of the polygraphy will likely not be admissible in court. Therefore, without corroborating evidence, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to pursue charges against them for stealing your goods.


Uncover Fraud

Financial institutions like investment firms handling client funds are prime candidates for implementing a polygraph policy. For instance, if you suspect one of your banking team members is embezzling client funds, you can send them for a polygraph to uncover the behavior. In this case, you might have a team of individuals you suspect of the theft.

You can polygraph the entire team and likely find the culprit through the lie detector exam process. As with the jewelry store theft example, you won’t be able to use the polygraph report as conclusive evidence in a case against the offending party. You’ll require corroborating proof to include the polygraph results and get a conviction in court.


Uncover Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is a massive problem in the United States. In 2022, drug overdose will be the leading cause of death for people aged 18 to 49. This shows the extent of the problem in the country. Drug abuse can be challenging to identify in employees if you don’t know what you’re looking for in terms of physical indicators. Employees addicted to drugs may create big problems for the organization.

Drug use can impair function, reducing employee productivity. In extreme cases, employees may need to steal or embezzle money from their employer to fund their drug habit. They may get into debt, requiring them to take credit to cover the costs of their habit. When that runs out, they’ll look to steal from the business to find the money to fund their drug addiction.

If you include polygraph exams as a condition of employment in their contract, you have the right to test them for substance abuse in the workplace. An addict presents a risk to your business, so you can ask them to undertake the polygraph, or they risk being fired for insubordination.


Uncover Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a huge problem in the workplace. The #MeToo movement uncovered what was previously thought as an outlying behavior, showing it to be all too common at places of employment. However, some employees may accuse others of sexual misconduct out of spite for the other person, despite them doing nothing of the sort.

Uncovering who is telling the truth in this situation is challenging. Due to societal pressures, employers often assume the female is infallible and the honest party, but that might not always be the case. A polygraph will determine the truthful party in the sexual harassment claim.

As with the other examples, if one of the parties involved refuses the test, but the other is willing to take it, there’s a good chance they are the guilty party to the claim.


How Does a Polygraph Policy Cultivate Trust in the Workplace?

From the above examples, we can see the utility of polygraphs in the workplace. It keeps people from stealing, making false behavioral claims, and preventing workplace drug abuse. By implementing this policy, employers can foster a sense of trust between team members, management, and the C-suite.


Explain the Polygraph Policy to Employees

If employers make the candidate aware they will be polygraphed for these transgressions at work, the employee has the right to accept the position or leave it. If they decline, then it’s a good screening tool, preventing you from onboarding employees with the potential to damage your business.

As long as you explain the policy and ensure the employee is fully aware and informed, you won’t have a problem if they decide to decline it when you ask them to take the polygraph. In this case, you have a clear legal path for lawful dismissal.


A Sense of Security and Safety

Implementing a polygraph policy creates a sense of trust between employees. For instance, if we refer to the jewelry store example, the employees are all aware that any case of theft will result in a polygraph exam for the entire team. People are less likely to steal if they know they’ll be caught. As a result, the other team members don’t have to worry about their fellow employees stealing from the business.

This fosters a sense of trust because they don’t have to worry about false accusations from management. It also gives management and the business owner or C-suite confidence in their employees.

Likewise, they don’t have to concern themselves with their employees stealing. While it’s possible employees may still take the risk of attempting to steal, it’s more likely the employer will uncover the culprit responsible for the theft.


Preventative Behavior Strategies

Similar to the theft example, implementing a polygraph policy with your team prevents untoward behavior in the workplace. If we look at sexual harassment at work, employees are less likely to behave inappropriately around their colleagues if they know they will be caught out for their misbehavior.

So, employers and the team know there’s a good chance they’ll experience good treatment from their colleagues at work. They don’t have to worry about being harassed by colleagues, and others don’t have to worry about false accusations being made against them.


Are There Drawbacks to Implementing a Polygraph Policy in the Workplace?

While some HR professionals state there are drawbacks to implementing a polygraph policy in the workplace, the above clearly shows the benefits far outweigh the cons.

Employers get a means of vetting employees at the pre-employment interview without needing to polygraph them. The threat of polygraph policies is enough to deter would-be troublemakers from taking the position.

While some HR professionals claim employees may feel violated by the polygraph process, that only really holds up if the employee has something to hide. If they are innocent of the allegations against them, they should have no problem taking the polygraph test.

Provided the employer makes the benefits of the polygraph policy clear at the pre-employment interview, there should be no reason for the employee to protest the use of the policy.


In Closing – Work with a Qualified Polygraph Specialist and Company

It’s critical for employers to work with a qualified, registered, and approved polygraph professional. Look for companies in your area offering these services and ask them for an interview to discuss what they can provide your company.