Tell the truth: Should HR ever use lie-detector tests?

Position:HR investigations

Let's say you're investigating alleged misconduct or rulebreaking. It seems obvious that at least one employee--maybe more--isn't telling the truth about what really happened. You think: I could get to the bottom of this with a lie-detector test.

Advice: Use your low-tech investigative skills to find out what's going on. The legal risks are usually too great for you to include lie-detectors in your HR arsenal. You're better off leaving the tests to bad detective-story movies. Here's why:

The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988 prohibits lie-detector testing by most private employers for either pre-employment screening or during the course of employment. You could face fines of up to $10,000 per violation.

Certain classes of employees are not protected by the act, including those who work in fields such as toxic waste storage or disposal, public transportation, protection of currency, negotiable securities or precious commodities and distribution of controlled substances.

Federal, state and local government employees and contractors doing business with certain federal agencies are also exempted.

The EPPA also permits polygraph testing of certain employees of private firms who are reasonably suspected of involvement in a workplace incident (theft, embezzlement, etc.) that resulted in economic loss.

If one of those...

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