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Think Twice Before Giving Workers a Polygraph

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on February 09, 2012 5:05 AM

Do you think your shifty-eyed cashier is lying to you about how much cash was left in the register last night? Or, do you have the sneaking suspicion that your supposedly Ivy League-educated accountant is actually a big fraud?

You might want to hold off on conducting employee polygraphs. The Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA) largely prohibits employers from using lie detector tests.

And most likely, the EPPA does apply to you.

The EPPA protects former, current, and prospective employees. It also applies to most employers -- though not those in the public sector. Specifically, it applies to private employers that employ at least two employees with an annual volume of business of $500,000. The employer must also conduct interstate commerce activities.

There are certain exceptions where administering polygraphs is acceptable:

  • If the employer is conducting an investigation into an economic loss or injury (such as a theft).
  • If the employer provides security services.

Even if an employer falls under an exemption category they still need to comply with certain requirements. For example, records need to be kept. The examiner must also be licensed and bonded. Information gleaned from a polygraph test cannot be widely disclosed.

Why keep all of this in mind? Well, you don't want to end up violating the law. If you do, you may end up paying for a wronged employee's lost wages and benefits. You may also face fines of up to $10,000 per violation levied by the Secretary of Labor.

That's why business owners thinking about giving their employees a polygraph test should probably consult with an experienced attorney. Even if you think you fall under an exemption allowed by the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, it's always better to be positively certain.

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