Are you applying for a job as a security guard, bodyguard, or some position in the security industry? Your employer will likely polygraph you as part of the hiring process. If you’re already involved in the security industry, you probably underwent a lie detector in your pre-employment assessment, but it won’t be the last time they’ll do it.
Security is a high-risk industry, and there’s a risk of loss of life in personnel and the clients and assets you protect. Criminals often recruit security personnel to look the other way when they plan robberies, assassinations, and other nefarious acts. The polygraph acts as a safeguard for the people you work with, your company, and your clients.
This post unpacks the specifics involved with polygraph policies in the security industry.
The Types of Security Firms
Several types of security firms are involved with protecting people and assets. If you want to make a career in the industry, you have plenty of options to apply your skillset. Here are a few of the most common types of security firms and their work.
Property & Asset Management
Industrial and residential properties hire security teams to protect the property from squatters, criminals, and other risks involved with property damage, theft, and loss of life. Commercial buildings involved in the manufacturing or distributing of goods often hire security teams to protect the property and the business from criminals that attempt robberies onsite.
Even empty buildings need protection. Squatters might decide to invade the property, or criminals might strip out fittings and pipework for sale on the black market or to scrapyards. There’s also a huge demand for residential security teams. High-net-worth individuals, celebrities, and even the average family might hire security teams to patrol their property or sign up for security firms like ADT.
Security is also necessary for safeguarding companies that hold valuable assets on site. For example, gold refineries, diamond dealers, and goods manufacturers require security teams to protect their people, property, and assets.
Business people, diplomats, government officials, and high-net-worth individuals often hire bodyguards and security teams to protect them while they travel. They might have death threats against them by psychopaths, or they could be taking the precautionary measure to ensure their safety while they attend events.
Guarding & Security Services
Private security companies offer residential protection services in areas where police response might not be adequate or fast enough to respond to emergencies. Security personnel involved in these operations respond to call-outs for home break-ins, home invasions, or prowlers on their property.
They also serve communities, patrolling neighborhoods and working with local law enforcement to ensure a safe space for residents. Security guards could also protect local businesses from robberies and angry people that enter the property looking to start trouble.
Risks to Security Services
Security defines a wide range of applications mentioned above. There’s a risk of loss of life to the security personnel, the people and assets they protect, and community safety. Security firms operate in an environment where they have to deal with a violent and non-violent criminal elements, and they need to ensure the safety of everyone falling under the umbrella of their team and services.
Is It Legal for Security Services to Polygraph Candidates & Employees?
Yes. The nature of business undertaken by security firms and personnel makes them a high-risk industry. As a result, they can implement pre-employment polygraph screening and institute random or specific on-the-job lie detector tests for their employees.
The “Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988” (EPPA) is legislation designed to protect employees from employer abuse and misuse of polygraph policies in the workplace. Typically, it bans employers from polygraphing their staff without good reason.
However, the EPPA has loopholes in the Act, exempting employers in high-risk industries from complying with the EPPA. As a result, employers can implement the polygraph policy they see necessary to safeguard their company’s reputation, staff, and clients.
What are the Types of Polygraph Exams Used by Security Services?
Security firms have three uses for polygraph exams in the workplace. They have the option to include pre-employment screening and specific and random lie detector tests on their employees. Let’s unpack each of these areas in detail to show you the uses of the lie detector in these processes.
When a security firm hires new staff, they usually do it through a recruitment agency. The agency handles the job posting, interviewing candidates, and recommending the best applicants to the prospective employer.
The candidate will meet with the HR firm or sometimes the business’s principal, depending on the nature of the job description. After an interview to see if they’re suitable, the prospective employer will arrange a polygraph exam for the candidate.
The candidate must consent to the polygraph if the employer requests it. Unlike private-sector companies that cannot use a pre-employment polygraph, security firms can use it to weed out bad actors and criminals from joining their organizations.
They don’t have to comply with the EPPA legislation, and they can use the polygraph results to determine if they want to hire the person or reject them for the position.
Random & Specific Testing
The second and third reasons for polygraph policies in security firms involve on-the-job testing. These polygraphs can be specific or random in nature. For example, the security firm may arrange a polygraph for a bodyguard if their client experiences an assassination attempt on their life and dies in the attack.
The polygraph examiner questions the bodyguard about their potential involvement in the event to see if they have any liability. Or the employer might use the polygraph to examine a security team on duty when a warehouse they were protecting was robbed.
Employers in the security industry may also institute random polygraph policies where they test their security personnel every quarter or six months. This procedure ensures that team members aren’t planning robberies, assassinations, or selling inside information to criminal groups.
How Do Security Services Implement a Polygraph Policy?
A security firm that institutes a polygraph policy will do so by hiring an attorney to handle building the legal framework around the polygraph policy. The attorney is also responsible for handling disputes between employees and the employer regarding using the polygraph in pre-employment or employment polygraph practices.
The employer also hires an independent polygraph firm to assist with outlining and executing the polygraph policy. The company appoints a qualified examiner to work with the employer’s attorney in building the policy. For example, the examiner may draft the questions involved in the exam, ensuring they comply with labor law and are related to the nature of the reasons for the test.
What Kind of Questions Does the Examiner Ask in the Exam?
The examiner builds the questions for the polygraph exam based on the type of incident involved. They are short, closed questions requiring a simple yes-or-no answer. They are specific and unambiguous, requiring no further explanation from the examinee.
The types of questions asked in the polygraph relate to the reason for the test. For instance, the types of questions asked to a candidate may differ from an employee suspected of involvement in a robbery or assassination.
The examiner collaborates with the attorney and the employer when creating the questions to ensure they’re relevant to the test. Here’s an example of the questions the examiner might ask in a pre-employment screening lie detector test.
- Have you ever been accused or charged with a crime?
- Have you ever lied to an employer?
- When applying for this position, did you lie on your job application or resume?
- Do you intend to use your position for any other reason than those stipulated by your employer?
- Have you used illegal drugs or misused or abused prescription drugs in the last six months?
- Do you have any outstanding debts you’re having trouble repaying?
- Have you used any countermeasures in this exam to conceal lies?
The lie detector test usually consists of five to seven questions. The polygraph examiner asks the questions, looking for signs of deception by the candidate. If they suspect deception with a specific question, they’ll repeat it to confirm their suspicions.
If the candidate cannot reasonably explain why the lie detector suspects deception, the candidate fails the test.
Can the Employer Observe the Polygraph Exam?
The employer has the right to view the lie detector test when it’s in progress. However, they must watch the polygraph exam through a two-way mirror in a separate room. Only the examiner and examinee are allowed in the exam room during the test. Introducing a third party, like the employer, to the exam room may confound the test results, leading to a false positive.
What Happens If a Security Employee Fails the Exam?
In private sector companies where employees have protection under the EPPA, the employer may not use the test results to reprimand or fire the employee. However, that’s not the case with security firms. If a security guard fails the polygraph, and the employer suspects their involvement in a crime, like a robbery or assassination, they can fire the employee.
They will also likely involve law enforcement in the case and ensure the police go after the employee and bring them to justice. Depending on the state, the court may or may not admit the polygraph results into evidence if the employee goes to a criminal trial.
How Accurate Is the Polygraph Exam?
The polygraph device is incredibly accurate, and there’s little chance that the employee will be able to conceal deception from the examiner. Experts suggest the polygraph is up to 97% accurate at detecting deception in guilty individuals.
Since security issues often involve criminal activities like robberies or assassinations, the polygraph company contracted to the employer usually sends their best examiners to conduct the test. Examiners go through up to seven years of education and training before they run a polygraph exam by themselves.
An experienced examiner may have thousands of tests under their resume, and they know the signs of deception to look for in an examiner. If the examiner suspects deception, they’ll usually review the recorded footage of the session after the exam at their office. They’ll look for body language in the examinee suggesting deception.
Typically, it takes two to three days for the examiner to file their report with the employer. After receiving the report, the employer can decide the best course of action, depending on the employee’s performance in the lie detector test.
Can Security Employees Beat the Polygraph?
It’s possible for some employees to beat the test. However, they’ll need to be a pathological liar to get around the examiner and the machine. Pathological liars don’t have the same brain connections as normal people.
They lie all the time, and they don’t feel any guilt when telling lies. Many pathological liars believe their lies, so they don’t activate the “fight-or-flight” response the examiner looks for during the test. As a result, they go undetected.
However, less than 5% of the US population are pathological liars. So, the chances of the security employee being a pathological liar are slim, and the polygraph is usually capable of sniffing out deception in an examinee that’s withholding the truth.
Understanding Countermeasures and the Polygraph
There’s also the case of “countermeasures” to consider in polygraph exams. These are strategies examinees use to minimize the fight-or-flight response under examiner questioning. There are three primary types of countermeasures – informational, physical, and drug-based.
An informational countermeasure might be looking up countermeasures on the internet with the intention of using them in the polygraph exam. A physical countermeasure might be clenching your thigh muscle, biting your tongue, or curling your toes when answering a question.
These countermeasures supposedly throw off the launch of the fight-or-flight response, providing inconclusive results to the polygraph device. Drug-based countermeasures include anti-anxiety medications like Xanax and beta-blockers used by the examinee during the test. These drugs inhibit the fight-or-flight response, confusing the lie detector.
However, the bad news for liars is that these countermeasures don’t work in the modern era of polygraphy. The software-driven systems are far more advanced than those used before the 1990s when these countermeasures were developed. There’s a good chance the examiner will catch the examinee using these countermeasures, resulting in a failed exam.