Will Polygraph Tests for Employees Accused of Theft at Work become Law in the UK?

Sep 29, 2022 | Commercial Lie Detector Test, Private Lie Detector Test

When lie detector tests were introduced in the UK to monitor sex offenders released on licence, there was some discussion about people, accused of theft at work, taking polygraph tests too. However, law in the UK prevents the results of such tests being used as evidence in courts or in employment tribunals.

The polygraph is used by the police to corroborate other evidence and has worked well, often inspiring confessions or revealing other interesting information that may help an investigation.

Employment tribunal judges or adjudicators may allow polygraph evidence if it forms part of other evidence, but will never make a decision based on lie detector test results alone.

Private Lie Detector Tests for employees accused of theft at work

An employee accused of theft at work has the opportunity to submit to a polygraph examination by privately ordering and paying for one.  The employer may be influenced by the results.  Employers can also arrange commercial lie detector tests to establish whether the worker is telling the truth or not.

No legislation exists currently, as far as employment law in the UK is concerned, regarding the use of polygraphs. Employers must adhere to the ACAS Code of Practice if they are thinking about firing an employee. Companies need to demonstrate that reasonable and appropriate investigations have been made into the matter before the dismissal. Unlike the criminal courts, employers do not have to “prove beyond reasonable doubt” that an offence took place.

Lie detector tests play an important role in such investigations in several ways:

  1. They often save time, since when an employee fails the test they often confess. In some cases merely asking them to take a test elicits and admission of guilt.
  2. Polygraph examinations are affordable and can sometimes reveal other information that may be useful to employers.
  3. They give a clear indication of whether or not an employee is being honest making it possible to eliminate them from the investigation.
  4. The fact that an employer has taken the trouble to get a polygraph test administered shows that they are taking an equitable approach in thoroughly investigating the issue

Deciding to order a lie detector test

The test is also fair because sometimes all the evidence may point to guilt yet the employee, accused of theft at work, insists they didn’t do it. Aware of the damage a dismissal may inflict on the employee’s future job prospects, many companies are more than willing to utilise polygraph services. Not to mention ameliorating an unfair dismissal claim.

If it is decided a polygraph examination is the route to take, the employer must obtain the consent of the employee. If they refuse, it cannot be derived that the worker is automatically guilty. They may feel that anxiety may affect the results of the test.  In this case it’s a good idea to allow the employee to speak to a qualified, experienced polygraph examiner. Such fears can easily be allayed by a specialist examiner who conducts tests on subjects, accused of theft at work, on a regular basis.

USA law versus law in the UK

The Employee Polygraph Protection Act in the USA governs the use of lie detector technology. This employment law allows tests to be conducted across a range of industries. Specifically these include the pre-employment screening process for those candidates hoping to secure a position in security services, government and pharmaceutical manufacturing, dispensing or distributing. This law also permits tests on workers that the employee believes have been involved in theft or fraud in the workplace. Nevertheless exceptions exist and robust standards must be met in the administration of the tests.

In conclusion since polygraph tests are permitted in the UK for some circumstances, it’s possible we’ll follow the USA in the future with legislation that encompasses the workplace.

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