Workplace polygraph policies have several benefits for employers and their teams. However, they also come with drawbacks to implementing them. If you’re an employer weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of adding this procedure to your business practices, you must consider both the pros and cons of making this decision.
There’s a significant difference between instituting polygraphs in the public and private sectors. Public sector organizations, such as those involved in the justice system and intelligence or defense communities, don’t have any restrictions on how they implement polygraph policies for candidates and employees.
However, it’s different for private-sector organizations. Laws dictate how employers may use this technology in hiring and firing processes. This post examines these discrepancies in the law. We’ll focus on the private sector to give employers an unbiased view of the pros and cons of implementing polygraphs in the workplace.
Understanding the EPPA
Let’s start with the law. President Ronald Reagan signed “The Employee Polygraph Protection Act” (EPPA) into power in 1988. The purpose of the Act was to prevent employer misuse of polygraph technology in hiring and firing practices.
When used ethically, the polygraph provides private-sector employers several benefits for their business. However, employers took advantage of polygraphs in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, mostly for unethical reasons.
They would use the technology to separate desirable and undesirable candidates based on ethnicity, race, and performance. As a result, the Reagan administration decided the EPPA was the best safeguard against employers abusing polygraph policies.
The Act prevented private sector employers from using polygraphs on their candidates in the pre-employment screening process and in random or specific testing of employees without cause to do so. Some private-sector industries, such as those involved in pharmaceuticals, security, and other high-risk industries, remained exempt from the law. However, by in large, the practice was outlawed.
The EPPA does make provision for private sector employers to use polygraph policies in specific testing of employees with cause, provided they remain within the boundaries of the legislation. So, the employer must have good reason to do so and hire an attorney to guide them through the process, along with an independent, external polygraph firm to conduct the testing.
What are the Pros of Implementing a Polygraph Policy in the Workplace?
Keep Bad Actors Out of the Organization
The primary benefit of implementing a polygraph policy in private sector applications is to root out bad actors in the organization or prevent hiring these individuals. For instance, in pharmaceutical manufacturing and distribution companies, pre-screening of candidates is permissible. The EPPA makes provision for this due to the sensitivity of these positions.
For instance, these companies wouldn’t want to hire addicts or individuals from organized crime. They might end up stealing from the company or arranging robberies. Other companies may use polygraphs in specific testing programs if they discover undesirable behavior placing their business and staff at risk.
Private sector employers may conduct polygraph exams on their employees if they experience a theft presenting a significant loss to the organization. For instance, an inventory theft might damage the company’s bottom line, jeopardizing the organization’s finances.
For instance, an employer running a jewelry business may notify new hires they may be subject to a polygraph exam if the company experiences an inventory theft. This procedure would be in line with EPPA standards. As a result, they might root out undesirables in the hiring process that intend to plan a robbery.
Prevent Sexual Harassment
Employers may institute a specific polygraph exam in the workplace if a colleague accuses another of sexual harassment. These claims present a significant risk to the business, implying that the company fosters a culture of harassment if they don’t take action to solve the issue. However, human beings are flawed, and the accuser or the accused may lie about their involvement.
By instituting a polygraph policy to resolve the problem, the employer can determine which party is telling the truth and correctly judge the situation. Suppose the employer notifies candidates that they are subject to polygraphs when filing complaints about these issues. In that case, they are less likely to experience employee manipulation of the situation and foster a better culture of honesty and integrity in the company.
Uncover Drug Use
The employer may use a polygraph policy in the workplace to test staff they suspect of using or selling drugs in the workplace. Drug use dampens employee productivity and could spread through the company’s culture. Drug addicts working in organizations may plan crimes, such as fraud or robberies, to find the means to support their habit.
By mentioning to candidates that they will be subject to polygraph testing if suspected of drug activity, the employer prevents addicts or dealers from entering their organization. The addict might move on the find another company where they can continue their behavior without the threat of a polygraph discovering them.
Companies in the financial sector may institute polygraph policies if they uncover fraud in the organization. For instance, they suspect an accountant, trader, or account manager of committing such a crime.
By mentioning to candidates that they are subject to polygraphs in the wake of fraud suspicion, they stop these bad actors from entering the company. Or they might prevent the employee from being tempted to commit fraud after being hired.
Build a Culture of Trust
Overall, implementing a polygraph policy in the workplace builds a culture of trust. Employees know they work with team members with high moral and ethical standards. So, they can relax knowing the company, their job, and their colleagues are safe from the criminal manipulation of bad actors.
What are the Cons of Implementing a Polygraph Policy in the Workplace?
Open the Doors for Manipulation
Despite the EPPA outlining the process of implementing polygraph policies, some employers use them in unfair hiring and firing practices. For instance, the employer could use the pre-employment screening polygraph to avoid hiring individuals they view as undesirable due to ethnicity or race.
While the polygraph examiner might follow the EPPA and remain impartial, the employer can use the process to deny hiring employees they view as undesirable. They are not obligated to reveal the proof of the test results to the candidate unless the candidate files a formal complaint with the US Labor Department.
Since this process requires the candidate to hire an attorney to navigate proceedings, they will likely wait to follow up on it. They would rather move on to another job interview than pursue the employer.
Create Uncertainty in the Workforce
Instituting a polygraph policy involving pre-employment screening and random or specific testing in the workplace may do the opposite of creating a culture of trust in the company. Employees may feel nervous about taking these tests if the employer fails to execute the policy properly.
As a result, the employees work in an environment of fear. They might view their company as more of an authority than a partner they can trust with their career. This environment of uncertainty can affect productivity, employee reliability, and commitment to the company.
Exposure to Financial Liability
The employer needs competent advice from their attorney or polygraph partner when setting up the polygraph policy, or they expose their organization to risk. If the employer doesn’t follow the guidelines of the EPPA, the employee has legal recourse against them.
The employee may hire an attorney and use counsel to file a complaint against the employer for unethical use of a polygraph policy. The attorney files this complaint with the US Labor Department, and they will launch an investigation into the matter.
If the Labor Department investigation reveals the employer or examiner acted unlawfully, the employer is at financial risk. The Labor Department may fine the employer a substantial amount for each violation of the EPPA. If the company is short on financial resources and cash flow, it might find itself in a position where it must declare bankruptcy.
Employers that unjustly or unfairly execute polygraph policies in the workplace may ruin their reputation in the employment market. Words spread through social media sites like LinkedIn that the employer unjustly uses polygraphs for whatever reason.
As a result, the employer may find it hard to onboard high-quality employees. These individuals may fear job security at the company and choose to work for competitors offering a more favorable employee experience.
Additional Operating Costs
Implementing a polygraph policy is expensive. The employer must hire legal counsel to guide them through the process and an independent, external polygraph firm to conduct the exams. The costs add to the company’s operating expenses and employee costs.
As a result, the employer may experience a significant reduction in margins and profitability. Shareholders may complain about falling profits, and management may risk experiencing reshuffles due to these financial issues.
Not Admissible in Court
Polygraph results are only admissible in court if they corroborate other evidence collected in the case. So, for instance, if the polygraph exams suggest that a specific employee is responsible for an inventory theft, the employer can do nothing to use this evidence as legal proof in a court of law against the employee.
Non-Enforceable in the Workplace
While polygraph exams are effective, the results are not enforceable. For instance, if the employer does discover the employee responsible for their inventory theft, there is little they can do to use the results to reprimand or fire the employee. The employer may not use a failed test result to harass or intimidate the employee.
The employer may not use the test results to create an inhospitable work environment for the employee. If they do so, they expose themselves to violating the EPPA legislation and legal liability.
How to Successfully Implement a Polygraph Policy in the Workplace
There is a lot of ground to cover for private-sector employers that wish to implement a polygraph policy in the workplace. They must ensure they meet the demands of the EPPA and remain compliant with the legislation if they want to avoid violations and lawsuits.
However, with the right advice and assistance, an employer can implement the polygraph policy effectively.
Understand the Law
The employer must meet all requirements of the EPPA before implementing their workplace polygraph policy. This requires legal assistance from a qualified attorney specializing in labor law. The employer must hire this professional at their own cost and use them to assist with navigating the process.
The attorney collaborates with the polygraph examiner to construct the polygraph policy while remaining within the confines of the EPPA. The attorney also assists the employer with any employee disputes and claims of violations of the EPPA.
The lawyer will also assist the employer with handling any investigations led by the US Labor department into the ethical rollout and use of the workplace polygraph policy.
Work with Certified Polygraph Professionals
The employer must ensure they choose the right partner company to execute the polygraph policy. They must hire a company certified and approved by the American Polygraph Association (APA) to carry out the exams and launch the specifics of the polygraph policy.
The examiners conducting the lie detector tests must have full certification and licensing from the APA and be qualified to perform the exams. The examiner works with the employer’s attorney to set up the polygraph policy and execute it effectively while remaining in the confines of the EPPA.
Inform Your Team
The employer and the polygraph examiner must roll out the polygraph policy to employees while adhering to EPPA legislation. The employer must explain why they choose to use the polygraph exams and the benefits to both the organization and the team for doing so.
It’s up to the employer and the examiner to ensure the team understands everything they need to know about the polygraph exam, how it works, and the consequences of the results. By being transparent with the team, the employer ensures the company builds a community of trust and not fear in the workforce.