Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Lie Detectors (Polygraphs) in Job Interviews

Job interviews can be pretty stressful. You know what would make them even worse? A polygraph machine (aka a lie detector)! So why don't employers use them? They could ask you important questions, like "Have you ever stolen money from work?" and "Would you steal from work if you knew you wouldn't get caught?"

So why don't employers use this valuable tool? First, it might dissuade qualified applicants from applying for jobs. If I walked in to a job interview and saw a polygraph machine, I'd walk right back out. On top of that, and more on point for this blog, it's generally against the law!

The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988 (.pdf) generally makes it unlawful for an employer to:
directly or indirectly, to require, request, suggest, or cause any employee or prospective employee to take or submit to any lie detector test.
29 U.S.C. § 2002. And in Pennsylvania,
A person is guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree if he requires as a condition for employment or continuation of employment that an employee or other individual shall take a polygraph test or any form of a mechanical or electrical lie detector test.
18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 7321. There are exceptions for:
employees or other individuals in the field of public law enforcement or who dispense or have access to narcotics or dangerous drugs.
The federal law likewise has some exceptions for things like national security and FBI contractors.

And finally, I can't discuss the nightmare of lie detectors without leaving you with perhaps the greatest clip in the history of train wreck television. Here's part I:

The whole episode is here. It's an episode of the show Moment of Truth in which a contestant admits she was once fired for stealing money, flashed a stranger for laughs, loved an ex on her wedding day (while her husband looks on), believes she should be married to that ex, had sexual relations with someone other than her husband while they were married... but the lie detector busts her when she tries to say she believes she's a good person. Cringeworthy.

Posted by Philip Miles, an employment lawyer with McQuaide Blasko in State College, Pennsylvania.