Labor and Employment

The Truth About Taking Polygraph Tests

When you're looking for a new job, you probably expect prospective employers to investigate your criminal background, check your references, and even run your credit. Probably the last thing you'd expect as part of the hiring process is being asked to take a polygraph or lie detector test. Depending on the employer and the type of job you're applying for, it may not be legal

Most Private Employers Can't Require Polygraphs

Federal law prohibits most private employers from using a polygraph test to screen job applicants. They cannot suggest, or even imply off the record, that taking a polygraph test is necessary.

If a prospective employer asks you to submit to a lie detector test and doesn't offer you the job because you refused, your rights have been violated. This is the case even if you lack qualifications and probably would not get the job anyway. You may have been the victim of illegal discrimination.

Know Your Rights

There are some very narrow exceptions to the law that prohibits the use of polygraphs for employment screening. If you apply for a job in the security service industry, such as a security guard or armored car driver, or if you apply to a pharmaceutical company, these categories of employers can legally require you to submit to a polygraph test.

However, the government places tight restrictions on these exceptions by requiring that these employers provide you with written notice of the test. This notice must include information about polygraph exams and documentation outlining your rights, including instructions on how to file a complaint for any violations that may occur.

Government Jobs May Require a Polygraph

Unlike private sector employers, federal, state, and local government agencies can legally use polygraph testing to screen job applicants. However, only a small percent of government job applicants are ever asked to take a lie detector test. For the most part, only applicants to high-security positions, such as the FBI and CIA, are subjected to polygraph tests.

You Can Sue Employers Who Violate the Law

When private sector employers violate the law that prohibits the use of lie detector tests, the federal government takes it very seriously and has the authority to charge a $10,000 penalty for each violation. Regardless of whether or not you get the job, you have the right to file a separate lawsuit against the employer to recover any money damages you're entitled to.

An Employment Lawyer Can Help

The law surrounding polygraph screening of potential employees is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact an employment lawyer.

Have a labor and employment question?
Get answers from local attorneys.
It's free and easy.
Ask a Lawyer

Get Professional Help

Find a Labor And Employment lawyer
Practice Area:
Zip Code:
How It Works
  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Connect with local attorneys

Talk to an attorney

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you