Did your employer ask you to take a polygraph? If you’re reading this, you’re probably trying to learn more about lie detector tests and how they work. As a short answer to your question, no. You can’t get in trouble for researching polygraphs and how they work.

However, there’s a caveat to that which we’ll explain in detail in this post.


Can My Employer Ask Me to Take a Polygraph? – Understanding the EPPA

Before we get into countermeasures and if you can get in trouble with researching polygraphs, let’s start with the basics. Understanding polygraphs and their effects in the workplace takes us back to the late 1970s and the start of the 1980s.

During this time, polygraph technology was readily used throughout the UK and USA due to its efficacy in helping law enforcement bolster evidence in their criminal cases., However, professional organizations and companies also started integrating polygraphs into the workplace.

Unfortunately, like many other technologies, there was potential employer abuse with lie detector tests. Many employers implementing polygraph policies in the workplace were using it as a method to prevent hiring candidates they didn’t like or pushing employees out of their company.

As a result of these corporate shenanigans, the US government drafted “The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988” (EPPA). The purpose of the EPPA was to prevent or restrict polygraph testing in the private sector, specifically in employment pre-screening and on-the-job disciplinary practices or investigations.

Under the guidelines of the EPPA, private sector employees could no longer force employees or candidates to undergo polygraphs. As a result of introducing the EPPA, the use of polygraphs in these settings was all but outlawed.

However, the EPPA also included legislation outlining when private sector companies could polygraph their employees. For instance, if there’s suspected drug use in the workplace, a theft resulting in economic loss to the company, or allegations of sexual misconduct, employers may institute polygraph policies.

Instituting a polygraph policy in the workplace is no easy feat for employers. Employers must follow stringent guidelines to avoid violating the EPPA and jump through plenty of paperwork hoops to ensure compliance.

Despite there being ways to get around the EPPA in the workplace, the employee maintains the right to refuse a polygraph, even if the company follows protocol. The employer may also not use the polygraph results to dismiss or discipline the employee in any manner.

So, yes. Your employer can ask you to take a polygraph, but they can’t force you to do so, nor can they use a failed result to prevent them from hiring or firing you.


Why Do Employers Use Polygraph Exams?

While the EPPA prevents employers from using polygraphs in the workplace, many still choose to implement a lie detector policy as part of their pre-employment and employment HR processes. There are instances where the EPPA doesn’t apply to certain industries.

For instance, if the business is a pharmaceutical manufacturer or distributor, they may implement a polygraph policy for pre-screening employees or testing their workforce. The reasons for this are logical; companies don’t want to hire drug addicts or criminals that might get their hands on the company’s drugs.

Similarly, organizations involved in security, high-value asset transportation, and sales may use polygraphs to weed out criminals and potential thieves from infiltrating their organization. Employers use polygraphs in two specific areas of HR.

The first is in the pre-employment screening process. If they have a candidate they think suits the job, they can ask them to take a polygraph, provided it complies with EPPA legislation and protocols.

Or if there’s a financial loss at a company that isn’t on the approved list, the organization may consult with an attorney and polygraph company to run a lie detector test on their staff. Polygraphs prove useful in these cases.

For instance, if someone in the office makes an allegation of sexual misconduct to a colleague, they may be doing so disingenuously. The employee may not like their colleagues and make a false accusation against them in the hope of getting them fired.

Or, the employee may genuinely have experienced harassment or inappropriate conduct by their colleague, forcing them to take action against them. As the employer, it’s not your duty to take sides in the argument; your responsibility is to get to the truth.

By asking both parties to undergo a polygraph, employers can determine which side is lying and which is telling the truth. With accurate information, employers can decide who to believe and how to proceed with the matter.


Can I Research the Polygraph Exam Before the Test?

When employees request a polygraph, it’s common for them to feel uncertain about the matter. That reaction is completely understandable. As human beings, we have a fear of the unknown and the outcomes it produces in our lives. Since the polygraph is such a make-or-break event in their careers, it’s common for employees and candidates to fear it.

The only way to overcome fear is to gain more knowledge about the stressor responsible for the reaction., For example, you might come across a mountain lion if you’re out in the Hollywood Hills on a nature walk.

The natural instinct is to obey the fight-or-flight response and flee the animal. However, that’s the exact opposite of what you should do. The lion can run faster than you, and it will catch and maul you, severely injuring or killing you.

Suppose you have knowledge of mountain lion behavior. In that case, you understand the correct behavior is to maintain eye contact with the animal, make plenty of noise, and slowly back away from it. The same is true for the polygraph exam; you lose the fear of it by understanding more about what it entails.


How Does Pre-Test Research on Polygraph Exams Affect Results?

So, how does knowledge of the polygraph exam benefit the candidate or employee when taking the lie detector test? The answer lies in the sympathetic nervous system’s “fight-or-flight” response. As mentioned, the fight-or-flight response occurs when we experience an environmental stressor.

In this case, taking the polygraph is a harrowing thought and experience for most people. When you enter the exam room, your nervous system is on edge. Sure, it might not be life-threatening, like meeting a mountain lion in the wilderness. However, the consequences of failing the test impact your career significantly.

Although you’ve done nothing wrong, you’re concerned that something personal might be revealed in the test your employer might look unfavorably on. Say, for example, you drink a bit too much in your spare time away from the office.

While that behavior is none of your employer’s concern, if it doesn’t affect your productivity, it’s something you might feel embarrassed to admit. Your subconscious mind is fully aware of this, even if it isn’t at the forefront of your mind during the exam.

So, you sit down at the exam and begin the lie detector test. The examiner asks if you use illegal drugs as one of the standard format questions. You’ve never touched a drug in your life, but your subconscious starts screaming, thinking about your drinking habit.

This feeling of uncertainty is enough to activate the fight-or-flight response by the sympathetic nervous system. Suddenly, you notice your heart beating in your chest, your breathing rate increasing, and you start to feel warm under your collar. That’s the fight-or-flight response at work.

The polygraph examiner uses instrumentation and software linked to you and their laptop to analyze the fight-or-flight response in your physiology. They detect these changes and note them on their screen. They see this as a sign of deception if you decide to lie to cover up your drinking habit. As a result, you end up with a result of “deception detected” in your polygraph exam, and that’s enough to help your employer build a case against you or look into the problem.


When Is It Not Okay to Research Polygraph Testing?

So, what happens if you have done something wrong and you’re reading this post to try and learn if they are countermeasures you can use to beat the polygraph test? You might have heard old wives’ tales of placing a thumbtack in your show and pressing it when you answer to beat the polygraph.

Or maybe someone told you that lie detector tests aren’t accurate and are easy to beat if you clench your buttocks when answering the examiner’s questions. The problem is these “countermeasures” don’t apply in the modern era of polygraph technology.

The introduction of polygraph software, computers, and algorithms refined the art of polygraphy, making it more accurate than in the 1970s and 1980s. The examiner will likely catch you out and ask you if you’re using a countermeasure, and you’ll have to lie about it or risk failing the test – either way, you’re going to be called out for deceptive behavior.

However, it’s not against the rules to research polygraph procedures. In fact, it’s recommended by employers and polygraph professionals that candidates and employees read all they can on polygraphs before taking the lie detector test.

By reading up on polygraphs, you gain knowledge, removing the fear in the situation. As a result, you walk into the exam room better prepared, and there’s less chance of you feeling anxious or conflicted with the test results during the questioning process.


Potential Risks of Researching Polygraphs Before the Test

What you can’t do is read up on how to cheat or beat the polygraph – that’s a no-no and a big mistake. This behavior and research show deception. It means you’re actively looking for a way to beat the polygraph, and there must be a reason for your actions.

The examiner might ask you if you researched ways to beat the polygraph before taking the test. Then what do you do? Even if you had nothing to hide and did so out of interest, it could come back to haunt you. If you do so and admit it to the polygraph examiner, they’ll ask you if you’re using a countermeasure in the exam.

There’s a big difference between being curious about something and wandering onto information and actively seeking it to manipulate the polygraph exam outcome. Actively researching countermeasures and ways to beat the lie detector test is manipulation and shows potential deceptive behavior.

So, when researching, ask the polygraph examiner or your boss what they recommend you look up. You also have the right to ask the examiner any questions regarding the test. For example, ask them if they’ll present questions on activities outside the workplace and what they are.

The polygraph examiner must present you with a list of the questions they ask in the exam before you walk in for the test. They must do so at least 48 hours before your polygraph exam. By understanding what they ask, you can formulate questions and receive answers that put your mind at ease.


Common Misunderstandings About Polygraph Exams

Let’s break down some misconceptions about the polygraph exam. The first is that the examiner will ask our long-winded questions, but that’s not the case. The exam involves questions with yes-or-no answers, and the examiner will only ask you to expand on your response if you provide an answer contrary to what’s expected.

For instance, if they ask you if you’ve used illegal drugs and you reply yes, they’ll ask you to explain. You could say you used illicit drugs at a party two years ago, and it’s not a regular thing for you. You also have the right to deny the expansion, which might affect the test result.

The next thing to consider about the polygraph exam is that the examiner is out to get you. They aren’t concerned with your behavior outside of the test parameters. So, the above example of using illegal drugs might not pertain to a scenario where they’re questioning you for sexual misconduct. By being honest rather than deceptive, you’ll pass the test.

In closing, you can’t get in trouble for researching things about polygraph exams. However, you could fail the exam if you explore methods on how to beat it.