Are you a business owner? Do you have problems with hiring honest employees? The reality of being an employer is that people tend to lie – all the time. They’ll lie to get a job, lie on the job, and do it for several reasons. People will lie to avoid punishment or make themselves look good, and this behavior can hurt your organization.

As an employer in the private or public sector, it’s your duty to hire trustworthy people for your team. Not only for the sake of your business but for the safety of the employee and workplace experience. If you have dishonest people on your team, they can sow discord in the business, increasing staff turnover.

It’s important to find out the truth in the pre-employment process and on the job. A polygraph exam allows employers to discern the truth from lies, allowing them to improve the employee and workplace experience for their team.

What Is a Polygraph?

A polygraph, also known colloquially as a “lie detector test,” helps employers root out bad actors in their workforce. Some employees work diligently and honestly, while others choose to lie, cheat, and steal. Unfortunately, uncovering liars is challenging because most dishonest people are good at covering their intentions.

A polygraph exam allows employers to stamp out deceit, deception, and dishonesty in the workplace. For instance, if you experience theft in the workplace, such as an employee stealing your inventory, a polygraph can help you uncover the thief. Without the polygraph, you might never discover the employee responsible for the theft.

While the polygraph isn’t conclusive evidence that holds up in court, it’s enough to help you start building a case against the thief. When employees know you’re onto them, they’ll often leave of their own accord, without you needing to press action against them.

So, what is a polygraph exactly? A lie detector test involves a qualified examiner hooking the employee up to instrumentation while they sit in a high-back chair. The employee undertaking the exam has the examiner connect two corrugated rubber tubes to their chest and abdomen. The examiner also connects a monitor to the fingertips, sweat pad sensors to the fingers or palms, and a blood pressure cuff to the upper arm.

The instruments connect to a laptop running specialized software designed to analyze the physiological feedback from the employee as the examiner asks them a series of questions. The examiner will note the employee’s responses and how they correlate to the readout from the software.

Although some claim polygraphs are inaccurate and produce false positives, they are remarkably accurate at detecting deception. The polygraph works on analyzing the body’s “fight-or-flight” response to stimuli.

When the employee sits in the chair, hooked up to the polygraph, it activates a primal part of the brain and nervous system known as the “sympathetic nervous system.” When the SNS detects stress from external factors, such as a polygraph, it signals the hypothalamus in the brain to release the hormone cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream.

These biochemicals increase blood pressure, pulse, respiration rates, and sweat gland activity as the body goes into fight-or-flight mode. The employee enters this state as the examiner asks them questions, and they start to lie to cover up their actions.

The employee can’t stop the fight-or-flight reaction by the nervous system. It’s an “autonomic” response, like breathing – meaning you don’t have to think about it; the brain handles it without conscious input.

So, the polygraph detects the physiological changes in the body as they relate to the questions asked in the exam. If these biomarkers increase, the examiner notices them on the screen and assumes the employee is being deceptive.


Understanding the Polygraph Protection Act of 1988

While polygraphs are effective at spotting employee deception, they are not admissible as evidence in court. The “Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988” (EPPA) forbids employers from using the polygraph exam in the workplace. Employers must meet strict regulatory requirements to implement a polygraph policy.

There are different rules surrounding why an employer may implement polygraph exams in the pre-employment screening and with employees already on the job.


Private Sector Polygraph Testing

Polygraphs are mostly outlawed in the private sector. If an employer wants to polygraph their staff, they need a good reason to do so. For instance, there must be a workplace theft that could cause the company a significant financial loss. Or an employee might accuse a colleague of sexual harassment.

An employer can implement a polygraph exam to uncover the truth if that’s the case. Without the use of the polygraph, the employer might never discover the thief of which party is responsible for the sexual harassment. As a result, the workplace remains unsafe for the rest of the team.

Private-sector employers may only use polygraphs in the pre-employment process under specific circumstances. For instance, the employer may operate a private security firm or high-value asset transfer service. Or they might run a pharmaceutical manufacturing or distributing business. In these instances, the employer needs to know they are hiring trustworthy individuals, or they place their business, clients, and employees at risk.


Public Sector Polygraph Testing

Public organizations involved in law enforcement and national security may use polygraph exams in pre-employment screening and for employees on the job. These organizations are mostly exempt from the EPPA.


When Is a Polygraph Useful?

So, when is a polygraph useful in the private sector? More importantly, when is it legal to use a polygraph exam on candidates or employees? A polygraph policy and an exam aim to keep the workplace safe for other team members while securing the business from hiring or working with employees with criminal intentions.


Pre-Employment Screening

As mentioned, polygraphs are almost always illegal to use in the pre-employment screening process. The only exceptions are those companies involved in high-risk environments, such as pharmaceutical manufacturing, security, and high-value asset transport.

It’s vital for firms operating in these industries to institute polygraph testing. For instance, the drug manufacturer might hire a junkie that uses the job to fuel their habit or to plan with organized crime to steal drugs from warehouses or while in transport.

Similarly, a high-value asset transport company can use a pre-employment polygraph to prevent hiring criminals who might plan a cash-in-transit heist. As long as the employer complies with the legislation in the EPPA, they may implement a polygraph policy for their staff and new hires.


Employee Theft or Embezzlement

Companies that hold expensive inventory, such as jewelry, may use polygraph exams if they experience theft in the company that was obviously an inside job. The polygraph can help root out the criminal employee responsible for the act.

Likewise, financial firms handling client funds can use polygraphs in the event of employee embezzlement. The polygraph effectively uncovers the employee responsible for the violation and assists the employer with building a case against them.


Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a huge problem for the welfare of employees involved in the incident and the rest of the team. No one wants to work for a company that allows this kind of misconduct in the workplace. However, sexual misconduct or harassment is a double-edged sword.

In many instances, the employee claiming their colleague or boss harassed them is telling the truth. However, in other cases, they may lie to get the other person in trouble. Unfortunately, it’s often the case that employees have no other evidence to back up their claims, making it a “your word against mine” situation. A polygraph can help determine which party is being truthful.


Drug Abuse in the Workplace

Employers can use a polygraph exam to uncover employees suspected of abusing or selling drugs in the workplace. Drug abuse can disrupt employee productivity, and if an employee is selling drugs to their colleagues, it opens the company to other liabilities, which can cost it financially. A polygraph exam can assist with uncovering drug abuse or misuse and dealing.


Why It’s Important to Find Out the Truth

In the above instances of lying or criminal activity in the workplace, polygraphs are essential tools assisting employers with uncovering the truth. Without implementing a polygraph policy, employers might hire the wrong people or be unable to root out bad actors on their teams.

However, employers must implement a polygraph policy within the boundaries of the Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988. The initial implementation of the EPPA was to ensure employers don’t abuse polygraphs to unjustly remove employees from the workplace or as a tool of discrimination against employees they don’t like.

When used correctly, a polygraph exam is an effective tool for finding out the truth in any organization. While it’s not admissible as evidence in court, some states may allow for the admission of polygraph results if they corroborate other evidence in the case.

Finding out the truth in the workplace is vital to securing the company’s and its employees’ safety, maintaining its reputation, and preventing harm to the employee and customer experience.


Lies Always Cause Harm

Lying in the workplace never creates a good work environment. Organizations need an open and honest work environment for employees to thrive. If employees are lying about their behavior, for whatever reason, it sows discord in the workplace, detracting from the workplace and employee experience.


Liars In the Workplace Cost You Profits

Employees that lie in the workplace can cost the business profits. In some cases, that might come from direct financial impacts to the company, such as embezzlement or inventory theft. In other instances, the economic loss may come from diminished productivity or a reduction in the customer experience.


Liars in the Workplace Cost You Your Customer Relationships

If employees lie in the workplace, it can impact the customer journey and experience of dealing with your business, costing you profits and reputation. By implementing a polygraph policy, employers ensure employees understand that they can’t get away with deceitful behavior, keeping them honest in the workplace.


Can You Beat a Polygraph?

Many people believe they can beat a polygraph or that polygraphs produce inaccurate results. However, most of these people base these claims on information from the early 1980s. Studies from this era show polygraphs are only accurate at pinpointing deceptive behavior in 60% to 70% of cases.

There are plenty of stories of people using counter-measures to pass polygraph exams. Some examples are employees using pins in the front of their show to disrupt the electrical signals sent to the polygraph machine. Or they squeeze their sphincter when answering a question to achieve the same result of disrupting the polygraph analysis.

However, polygraph technology has changed greatly in the last four decades since these “hacks” were considered feasible. The late 1990s and early 2000s saw computing software, algorithms, and AI introduced into polygraphs. This upgrade in technology dramatically improved the accuracy and reliability of polygraphs.

Today’s polygraph devices run specially designed software that’s more than capable of detecting these counter-measures. If the employee attempted to use these counter-measures with today’s polygraph systems, the examiner would pick up this activity, instantly recording it as deception.


Is It Worth Hiring a Polygraph Expert?

While the advances in polygraph systems and software have been significant over the last four decades, the advances in examiner training are even more impressive. While some believe they can beat the polygraph, they won’t surpass a highly qualified and well-trained examiner. Examiners are experts in spotting deceptive tones, body language, and microexpressions.

Attempting to get past an examiner who has thousands of polygraphs behind them is silly. If this is the employee’s first time in the polygraph exam room, assuming they can control the fight-or-flight response and the examiner’s experience is simply ridiculous.

However, polygraph examiners can make mistakes – we’re all human. It pays to hire a polygraph firm with qualified, experienced examiners. With the right polygraph team administering your lie detector tests, you ensure you get accurate, reliable results.

Choose a polygraph partner with the right industry accreditations and memberships to ensure you get the best results.