Printer Friendly

Can we still pick out the bad apples?

Can We Still Pick Out the Bad Apples?

THE POLYGRAPH EXAMINATION, once looked on as an accurate, time efficient, and cost-effective security management tool, has lapsed into functional obscurity with the passage of new congressional legislation. Security personnel may be asking themselves what happened and what their alternatives are for the future.

Since the polygraph's invention in the early 1930s, polygraph pioneers such as John Reid saw the polygraph examination grow from its limited commercial use in the 1940s to its popularity in the 1950s during the McCarthy era. The 1960s continued with extensive use of the polygraph by all government agencies. During the first half of this decade the private sector and government agencies were depending so heavily on polygraph examinations that an estimated 2 million were administered each year.

New legislation, in the form of the Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988 (EPPA), was supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, labor groups, individuals, and some lawmakers who had been pushing for almost 20 years to change the law because they felt polygraph examinations were unreliable, intrusive, and degrading. Those who saw the polygraph examination as an invaluable tool for preemployment and security control proposed legislation to Congress that would have provided stronger policing of polygraph examiners while still allowing them to work in the private sector. Those groups who supported abolishing the normal use of the polygraph examination in the private sector won Congress's vote, however. The EPPA went into effect December 27, 1988, stating that "the purpose of the regulations is to provide protection for most private sector employees from lie detector testing, either preemployment or during the course of employment, with certain limited exceptions."

Opponents of the EPPA argued that US companies lose more than $40 billion annually through employee pilferage, embezzlement, and other internal theft. Furthermore, they reported that the US Chamber of Commerce estimated that employee theft raises the cost of goods as much as 15 percent annually. Because of these losses, it is obvious the polygraph was a necessary tool for preemployment and security screening.

Furthermore, the government has almost completely taken away private sector use of the polygraph, while the government itself still actively uses polygraph almost without restriction. In the act's own words, EPPA "... prohibits most private employers from using any lie detector tests either for preemployment screening or during the course of employment," However, "Testing by the federal government of experts, consultants, or employees of federal contractors engaged in national security intelligence or counterintelligence functions is permitted."

The law contains several limited exemptions that authorize private sector polygraph tests under certain conditions, including the following:

] the testing of employees who are reasonably suspected of involvement in a workplace incident that results in economic loss or injury to the employer's business

] the testing of some prospective employees of private armored car, security alarm, and security guard firms

] the testing of some current and prospective employees in firms authorized to manufacture, distribute, or dispense controlled substances. Employers who violate any of the act's provisions may be assessed civil penalties up to $10,000.

EPPA further states that the fact that items in inventory are "frequently missing from a warehouse would not be a sufficient basis for administering a polygraph test. Even if the employer can establish that unusually high amounts of inventory are missing from the warehouse in a given month, this in and of itself, would NOT be sufficient basis to meet the specific incident requirement without evidence of intentional wrongdoing."

THE AMERICAN POLYGRAPH ASSOciation (APA) is considering challenging the new law in court. The APA has retained attorney F. Lee Bailey to represent the organization. In October 1988, Chairman of the House Labor and Education Committee Augustus Hawkins (D-CA) and several fellow representatives asked the Office of Technology Assessment to conduct a study on the reliability of written honesty tests. Congress may be getting ready to hold honesty tests up to the same scrutiny as the polygraph.

If that is Congress's intent, security managers must now evaluate alternate methods of employee testing to replace the answers that polygraph exams provided in the past. Several alternatives are available to the private sector for preemployment testing:

] Psychological honesty test/paper-and-pencil honesty test. These psychological honesty tests have long been on the market as an alternative to the preemployment polygraph test. The tests attempt to predict the potential honesty of the individual as well as reduce employee turnover. Honesty tests have grown significantly in popularity over the last three years. In 1987, over 2.5 million honesty tests were conducted throughout the United States.

] Reference check. This check includes personal and work references. Employers who do not throughly research the prospective employee may discover weeks, months, or years later that his or her friends, peers, and associates could have identified potential trouble in advance.

] Background check. This may include a criminal record, credit history, driving record, education, and residence verification. Although this sound like a simple process, it is time-consuming and often difficult to get accurate information. The problem may be with the information that people give the employer on their resume--over 17 percent of all new hires exaggerate their work experience and amount of time at a job, while over 9 percent falsely state their past salary.

] Drug testing. Most drug testing is administered through the use of a urine specimen, but the results can be deceptive because some drugs only show up for a limited number of days. For example, according to Georgia Health Group's report Drugs of Abuse, amphetamines are only detectable from 24 to 48 hours from ingestion, and drugs such as marijuana can be detected in an occasional smoker up to five days after the last cigarette. While the results are accurate under controlled situations, if the person taking the test knows the limits of detection he or she can alter the results of the test. According to statistics from Nation's Business, the typical recreational user in the workplace today is a person who:

] was born between 1948 and 1965,

] is late three times as often as fellow employees,

] asks to leave work early 2.2 times as often as fellow employees,

] is five times more likely to file a worker's compensation claim, and

] is involved in accidents 3.6 times more frequently than other workers.

By 1987, the total cost of accidents by drug users was $49 billion. Most of these expenses were shouldered by American business.

] Security interview. Best results are obtained in a one-on-one interview in which the questioner asks about theft, drugs, and crime and also observes the subject's nonverbal behavior.

In December 1988 the private sector lost a good friend through the extreme restrictions placed on the use of polygraph examinations. As president of the American Polygraph Association, I have met with representatives of the Department of Labor on numerous occasions to try to resolve this matter. I believe the Labor Department feels Congress intended to outlaw polygraphs and that the department will interpret and enforce the law in the most restrictive manner. While waiting for a resolution on this matter, business must be aware that without public intervention it may lose virtually every tool it has for preemployment and security screening.
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:polygraph examination
Author:Capps, Michael H.
Publication:Security Management
Article Type:column
Date:Jun 1, 1989
Previous Article:Alcohol and Drugs in the Workplace: Costs, Controls, and Controversies.
Next Article:Management training: today and tomorrow.

Related Articles
EPPA: the fine print.
The polygraph's part in prosecuting.
Polygraph results not allowed as evidence in Tax Court.
The search for an honest work force.
Polygraph evidence: winds of change?
Polygraph evidence after United States v. Scheffer.
Polygraph testing: a utilitarian tool.
Polygraphs: good or not?

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters