In recent times, polygraph testing has been used more commonly. It was previously only used in the United States of America where it is regulated by legislation. In South Africa, it is frequently used in the Private Security Industry by Employers to dismiss employees that make themselves guilty of dishonest behaviour.

There are numerous misconceptions as to when polygraphs can be used in South Africa. Some employers would justify terminating the employment relationship solely based thereon that the Employee failed to avail himself or herself for a polygraph test. Other Employers would summarily dismiss Employees that failed polygraph tests, without conducting any investigations to corroborate the test results, and without following any disciplinary procedures.

Employers have even included ‘penalties’ in employment contracts directed at Employees who fail polygraph tests. However, these dismissals have been considered to be unfair by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration and the Labour Court.

How would one then determine when and how a polygraph may be used? Would the result of the polygraph test itself be sufficient to discipline misbehaving Employees?

What is a polygraph test?

A polygraph test is administered by a Polygraphist and measures the physiological indicators such as blood pressure, pulse, sweat glands and cardiovascular responses when a series of questions is posed to the subject. The test is used to verify the truthfulness of the subject’s answers to the questions posed.

The subject, in this case, is an Employee whom the Employer suspects of acting dishonestly during his duties. The Employer briefs the Polygraphist as to what dishonest conduct the subject is suspected of.