Everyone lies all the time. White lies get thrown around for several reasons. Most of the time, they’re harmless and don’t cause problems. However, lying in the workplace is a very different dynamic.

When candidates or employees lie, it’s usually to cover up something severe. Maybe they stole from the business, planned a robbery, or harassed a co-worker. If that’s the case, employers must get to the bottom of the situation, removing liars or criminals from their organization.

Understanding why people lie at work is important to understanding employee behavior. Through a better knowledge of lying, employers can make better hires and improve management policies in their organization.

This post looks at why employees lie in the workplace and what employers can do to uncover these liars using polygraph exams.


Understanding the Difference in Lies at Work – Big Lies Vs. White Lies

Employers will never find employees that tell the truth all the time. These unicorns don’t exist. Your employees are like everyone else in the world; they lie. For instance, if your manager is late for work and tells you it’s because they had a flat tire and had to change it, they could be lying. In reality, they slept late because they were out partying with their friends last night.

This type of lie isn’t a big deal. If the manager is usually on-time and adds value to the organization and the staff, it’s not worth reprimanding them over the lie. Just accept it and move on. However, there are instances when lying at work is unacceptable and may cause severe damage to the organization.


Why Do Employees Lie at Work?

Employees may lie to cover up the following issues.

To Avoid Persecution for Past Crimes

The employee may not want to divulge past behavior at other places of employment. They may have been accused of theft, assault, or other crimes they don’t want the prospective employer or employer to know about.

To Falsify their Qualifications

The candidate may lie on their resume to get the job. They may falsify documents and references to gain access to the organization.

To Cover Up Misconduct

The candidate or employee may lie at work to cover up misconduct like sexual assault or insubordination.

When Stealing from their Employer

The employee may lie to cover up their involvement in a theft, robbery, or embezzlement scam.

To Cover Up Substance Abuse

The employee may lie to cover up their substance abuse issues or their involvement in selling drugs in the workplace.


Polygraphs and the Workplace

Employers can implement polygraph policies in the workplace to uncover liars and prevent damage to the organization. However, specific laws are in place to prevent employers from abusing these policies.

In some cases, it’s fine for employers to implement polygraph policies, and it’s illegal in others. Let’s unpack the specifics of implementing a polygraph policy in the workplace.


Understanding The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988

The development and implementation of the polygraph changed the game for law enforcement, giving authorities the power to look behind suspect’s lies and the façade they present. However, it had plenty of potential for abuse. The same applies to the use of polygraphs in the workplace.

Employers could use the polygraph to weed out indestructible candidates, being prejudiced against who they hire. Or they could use it as a tool to remove employees from the workplace based on false grounds. The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988 (EPPA) was implemented to prevent such abuses in the workplace.


Who Does the Act Cover?

The EPPA applies to private employers. The Act prohibits employers from using polygraphs for pre-employment screenings or on employees. Employers may not enforce mandatory polygraph testing for their employees or job candidates.

The employer cannot force or coerce an employee into taking a polygraph exam against their will. Doing so places the employer in violation of the Act. If found in violation of the EPPA, the employer exposes themselves to severe financial and legal repercussions, which we’ll discuss later.


Legitimate Administration of Polygraph Exams

In some cases, the EPPA doesn’t apply to pre-employment or employee screening. There are provisions of the Act where some organizations may institute a polygraph policy without being in violation of the legislation.

For example, there is mandatory pre-employment polygraph testing for many government and public institutions. If you want to apply for a job at the FBI, CIA, DOD, or NSA, you can expect to undergo a polygraph exam during pre-employment screening.

The reason for this should be obvious to anyone. As an employee of these organizations, you may be exposed to classified and sensitive information, such as state secrets. A polygraph exam ensures that the agency can trust the employee.

The Act also makes provisions for companies that deal with high-value assets or pharmaceuticals. For instance, companies involved in the production and distribution of pharmaceutical drugs may polygraph their employees and job candidates. This procedure prevents them from hiring addicts or criminals looking to take advantage of the employer.

The same applies to cash-in-transit companies. They may screen candidates and employees to ensure they hire trustworthy people, not criminals planning to rob the company. Likewise, companies involved in guarding or security may also implement a polygraph policy for their employees.

The Act also permits the polygraphing of employees in private firms where the employer believes there is a chance of suspicious activity or incidents, such as embezzlement at a hedge fund. Where employers are permitted to use a polygraph policy, they must comply with strict protocols for instituting the tests. These standards apply to the policy’s pretesting, testing, and post-testing phase.

The company must use a qualified examiner accredited by The American Polygraph Association (APA). The examiner must be licensed and bonded and have professional liability coverage. It’s also important to note there are strict laws in the Act regarding the dissemination and distribution of polygraph results.

The employer may not share the test results with anyone outside their organization. For instance, they might divulge the results to the manager responsible for overseeing the employee. However, they may not share the results with another employer if the employee resigns and looks for work elsewhere.


Employee Rights and Lie Detector Tests

The EPPA provides employees with rights regarding the ethical implementation of polygraph policies in the workplace. Employees have a right to pursue employment opportunities without being subjected to polygraph exams unless the employer qualifies for a specific exemption – which we’ll cover later.

So, if the employer wants to polygraph you for pre-employment screening, they must justify why they have this policy and how it pertains to your job. For instance, you could work as a sales rep for a collectible coin and bullion company.

You handle gold coins daily, and there’s a chance you could walk away with the merchandise or plan a robbery with a criminal group, putting other employees’ lives at risk and exposing the company to financial loss.

This means that if your employer wants you to take a polygraph test, they must prove how it is necessary for your job. Otherwise, the EPPA provides employees the right to file a lawsuit for violations of the Act.


Sanctions and Penalties for Employers Implementing Polygraph Policies

If the employer decides to implement a polygraph policy and doesn’t comply with the EPPA, they risk litigation. The Secretary of Labor may bring court action against employers violating the Act. The secretary may evaluate and assess the civil liability in the case. If they find the employer guilty, they may face a fine of up to $10,000 for each violation of the Act.

So, for instance, if the employer has ten staff members and they violate the rights of all ten, they could face up to a $100,000 penalty. In this case, the fine could be enough to cause sizeable and sustainable financial damage to the organization, resulting in its failure.

Employers violating the Act may also be liable to their employees or employment candidates for equitable relief, covering employment, promotion, reinstatement, and loss of income arising from the polygraph results.

So, not only may the business be liable for huge fines to the Secretary of Labor, but they could end up with a sizable financial responsibility to the employer, forcing the business into bankruptcy. Employers who receive a civil money penalty have the right to request a hearing before an administrative law judge within 30 days of receiving the notice.

If the employee is dissatisfied with the administrative law judge’s decision, they may request the Secretary of Labor to review the decision. The court will enforce the final determination of the Secretary of Labor on the matter.


The Relation of Lie Detector Testing and the Act to State, Local, and Federal Laws

The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988 doesn’t preempt the provision of state or local laws or any collective bargaining agreement that’s more restrictive concerning polygraph tests.


Who Enforces the Employee Polygraph Protection Act?

The Wage and Hour Division of the Employment Standards Administration is responsible for enforcing the Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988. Employers can obtain detailed information regarding the Act and its legislation from the Wage and Hour Division’s Web site.


When Can Employers Implement Polygraph Testing?

An employer has the right to legally implement polygraph exams in the workplace for specific reasons. While the Employee Polygraph Protection act of 1988 provides a significant amount of protection against employers misusing lie detectors in the workplace, there are certain instances where the employer may use them to uncover foul play.

  • For instance, if the employer suspects the employee may have a role in a serious situation, such as planning a robbery on the facility, they may request the employee take a polygraph. In this case, the employer must have a reason and motive for doing so. For instance, they might have another employee willing to testify that they heard their co-worker planning the robbery with someone else on the phone.
  • The employer may request employees to take a polygraph if there is a financial or economic loss to their business. For instance, there’s a robbery at work, and someone stole valuable inventory overnight while no one was on site.
  • The employer may request a polygraph if they have evidence displaying an employee is in violation of trust. For instance, the employee is suspected of stealing the company’s IP and selling it to the competition, presenting the business with severe economic loss.
  • The employer may request a polygraph if an employee accuses another staff member of sexual misconduct. In this case, the employer would test the accuser and the accused if the accused protests the charges against them by the other party.
  • The employer may request a polygraph if they have evidence that the employee is abusing or distributing drugs, such as narcotics, in the workplace.
  • The employer may request employees to take a polygraph exam if they suspect the employee is involved in fraudulent behavior.

It’s important to note that the polygraph results are insufficient to initiate grounds for dismissal of said employee. The employer can use the polygraph as corroborating evidence in a criminal or civil trial against the employee.


In Closing – What Drives Employees to Lie at Work?

There are several reasons why an employee might decide to lie at work. Most deception is around self-preservation. If the employee feels they might lose their job and thus their source of income, they are likely to lie out of self-preservation.

However, the employee may lie to cover up involvement in serious events, such as fraud, theft, conspiracy, or other nefarious crimes.

In these cases, the employer is within their right sot request a polygraph. However, the employee is not obligated to comply with these requests. They have the right to refuse the polygraph under the Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988.

Polygraphing of employees is a sensitive topic. Before employers institute a polygraph policy in the workplace, it’s advisable to consult with a labor attorney regarding the policy’s legality. Seeking legal advice could save the business thousands of dollars in litigation settlements.


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