Your boss calls you into his office on a Monday morning. A part of you thinks he might be ready to offer you that raise. Another part of you suspects something else. Maybe he’s not as impressed with your work as you thought.
When you sit down, he thanks you for your contribution to the team and proceeds to notify you that he’s planning on polygraphing the accounting department on Wednesday.
What does that mean? He tells you that he’s noticed discrepancies in the books, and the cash flow statement doesn’t match the deposits in the bank account. He suspects foul play and that someone in the accounting department might be stealing.
You leave his office with your head spinning. You know it’s not you that’s stealing from the business. So, why should you have to undergo a polygraph? Your mind flashes to that old CSI episode of the criminal being put under the lie detector machine, and your mind starts racing.
What if he finds out that that day you took off last month wasn’t because you were sick. It was because you wanted to take the day off and hang with your friends before going to Game 6 of the World Series. It’s not every day the Phillies make it to the big show, and you had to go. But now, your decision might have cost you your job.
You pack up for the day and head home, with your mind racing faster than your Tesla on the highway.
Reasons for Undergoing a Polygraph Exam
There are several reasons why employers might want to polygraph their staff or new hires. Typically, The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988 protects employees from being polygraphed by their employer, but there are exceptions.
For instance, if the company notices a theft that causes economic loss, the employer can polygraph the staff to find the culprit. Even though your boss has the right to polygraph the accounting department, he can’t force you to take the lie detector test. It’s against your rights. Nor can he fire you because you refuse to take the test.
However, you need to stop and think about that for a second. If you refuse to take the test, and everyone else decides to do it and comes up clean, how will that make you look? That’s right; you’ll look guilty to your boss and the rest of the team.
So, while the boss can’t force the staff to take a lie detector test, he can use it to weed out potential suspects. That’s not ethical, but technically, it’s legal. If you don’t pass the test and he suspects you of being the thief, he can’t use the polygraph results to fire you. That’s also illegal.
However, if he has other evidence that corroborates the polygraph result that you might be the thief, that’s a different story. He could use that combined evidence to fire you and launch litigation proceedings against you.
You see, polygraph results are inadmissible in court as evidence. However, they are admissible as corroborating evidence in the case. That means you’re in deep trouble.
What are the Stages of a Polygraph Exam?
So, you’re panicking because you’re in a catch-22 here. You know you’re in a pickle because you aren’t the thief, but your boss might fire you if he finds out you ditched work for the Phillies game. Dang, and it wasn’t even worth it. The Astros won anyway. You start kicking yourself for your idiotic decision.
Wednesday arrives, and it’s time to take the polygraph. You sign off on the lie detector because you feel you have no choice and nervously step into the exam room. The polygraph technician greets you; she seems like a nice lady. She’s pretty, with blond hair and piercing blue eyes sitting behind horn-rimmed spectacles.
She starts explaining that you’re undergoing the polygraph because the boss suspects someone in the department of theft. She tells you she’ll strap you to this equipment and link it to her laptop to review your results.
She starts by placing corrugated rubber tubes on your chest and another across your tummy. She slips a blood pressure cuff on your arm and a meter on your fingertip. You notice that you’re sitting on a mat on the chair with electrodes running to the PC. She finishes by attaching a pad to your hands and explains that it’s there to check if you’re sweating.
That’s not great. You’re already sweating and feeling nervous.
The Polygraph Exam
The examiner again informs you of the test’s parameters and why you’re undergoing it as she switches on a camera to record the session. You take a few deep breaths to calm yourself, and she starts by asking you your name, your position at the firm, and how long you’ve worked there.
You’re feeling good, and everything seems fine. Then the examiner starts the real deal. She runs through a series of questions.
Do you use illegal or recreational drugs? – No, (So far, so good).
Do you have any unpaid debts? – No, (you always pay your bills on time).
Have you ever stolen from your employer? – No (you feel confident in your answer).
Have you ever lied to your employer? – There it is. Your heart skips a beat as you answer no.
You notice the examiner turns her attention from the computer screen and looks up at you from behind her glasses.
She repeats the question. “Have you ever lied to your employer?”
You feel like electricity is suddenly running through your body, and you know the examiner can tell you’re lying. Your palms feel sweaty, and your heart is racing.
You break and decide to tell the truth.
“Yes,” you answer. The examiner asks you to elaborate, and you tell her about the World Series in a panicked voice. To your surprise, you see a smirk creep into the corners of her mouth.
She tells you to take a breath and that she’ll continue with the questioning.
“Have you ever stolen from your employer?” she repeats the question firmly, but you don’t feel like you did previously. The sensation of electricity running through your veins is gone. You feel calm as you answer “no.”
Post Exam Review
After another 10 minutes, the examiner thanks you for your time and removes all the equipment from your body. You walk out of the room and back to your office. Now what? It’s a sure thing your boss is going to fire you now. After all, he has you on tape admitting to ditching work to go to the baseball game.
It’s only a matter of time before he walks into your office and fires you. “Why me?” you think as your mind goes into overdrive, worrying about the consequence of your idiotic actions. At that moment, your boss walks into your office. He thanks you for taking the test and says the examiner will give him the results tomorrow.
He tells you to take the rest of the day off. He’s already sent the rest of the accounting department home for the day. Great, he knows. You know he knows.
When Do You Get Your Polygraph Results?
Why did the boss send you home? Surely, he can’t know about your lie already? Either way, it’s just a matter of time before the examiner tells him. Oh well, maybe you should start looking through the job boards when you get home. After all, you’re going to need a new place of employment after tomorrow.
You see, a polygraph involves collecting plenty of data from the interview. The examiner will complete the interviews and return to their office, where they review all the information sent to the laptop software during the questioning process. They’ll also check the camera footage of the session and compare your body language to the data.
It takes time for this process, and that’s why you don’t get an immediate result right after the test. A lot is going on with the proceedings, and rushing the analysis can lead to mistakes with the outcome. This is serious business. Accusing someone of theft at work could backfire on the employer badly and open them to litigation if they’re wrong.
The Frustration with Waiting for Polygraph Results – How to Handle It
It’s 6 pm, and you’ve been home for hours. However, you can’t get the thought of the exam and tomorrow’s results out of your head. It’s driving you mad. How do you deal with the frustration of waiting for your results?
Here are a couple of tips.
You’ve Done Nothing Wrong
First, know that you aren’t the thief they’re looking for. Sure, you might have ditched work for the game, but let’s get real, that’s not enough to get you fired, right?
Take a couple of deep breaths. Inhale through the nose for a five count, and exhale for an eight-count. Do that for a minute, and you’ll activate the parasympathetic nervous system, calming you down.
Take Your Mind Off Things
Turn on the TV and watch your favorite show or a good movie. Realize that it’s out of your hands, and you can do nothing right now.
If the gremlins in your brain still won’t shut up, talk them down. Repeat a mantra like “I’m calm, cool, and collected.”
Speak to Someone Else
Call a friend and tell them what happened. They’ll help you through it and tell you not to worry.
Know that this, too, Shall Pass
At the end of the day, this isn’t the end of our life. You’re not the thief, and even if your boss fires you, you can always move state or something and find a new job.
Know Your Rights
Your boss can’t divulge the polygraph results to a new employer if they ask.
You get up the following day and get ready for work. As you put your tie on and stare in the mirror, you realize this is it. There’s no going back now, and it is what it is. It’s time to embrace your fate, whatever that might be.
You arrive at work, and your boss calls you into his office. Here we go.
A part of you wonders if you should box up your desk right now and head for the door. What’s the point of waiting? You’re getting fired. You’re sure of it.
You knock on the boss’s door and enter his office. He motions you to sit in the chair. He says, “We got the result of your polygraph exam….” You cut him off right there in frustration and blurt out that you’re sorry about the game. You don’t mean to lie to him about it, and you swear it will never happen again. It was just a one-time thing, and you’ve never done anything like that before.
Your boss looks shocked at your sudden outburst, but as you finish, a smile creeps over his face. He utters a short laugh and then tells you to calm down. Turns out he knew about the game. After all, you were on TV on the highlight reel, catching that flyball in the stands and jumping up and down with your friends. He secretly reveals he’s a Phillies fan, too, and would have done the same thing if he wasn’t worried about the books that day.
You feel relief wash over you from head to toe. Like someone just lifted the weight of the world off your shoulders. There, that wasn’t so bad, right? All that worrying for nothing. You have a quick laugh with your boss and discuss the results of the Phillies game and how you can’t stand those Astros.
After chewing the fat for a minute, your boss tells you he called you in because the polygraph examiner found that Jill was the thief, and she’s fired. He’s giving you a promotion to the head of the department. He has camera evidence of her pocketing the money in her purse, and he will take her to court.
He thanks you for your time and service, and as you leave, he tells you to tell him the next time you want to take the day off. His door is always open to you.
What a trip that was.