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Are Lie Detector Tests a Good Idea

August 30, 1999
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Related Topics: Miscellaneous Legal Issues, Policies and Procedures, Featured Article
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Scenario: An audit turns up a $500 cash shortage at the front desk of the hotel you work in. The only suspect is the front desk clerk. Should you make the clerk take a lie detector test, just to be sure, before you take action?

Answer: Absolutely not. The Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA) contains a specific exemption for voluntary polygraphs in the event of a cash shortage or possible theft. But the problem with giving the polygraph is that it creates a new set of rights for the individual.

Under the EPPA:

  • The individual being polygraphed must be advised of his or her right to refuse to take the polygraph or to terminate the exam at any time.
  • You cannot fire an employee based on his refusal to take the polygraph or based only on its results.
  • Therefore, if the hotel chooses to administer the polygraph, the employee can decline, and then contend that the reason for the termination was his refusal to submit to the exam. Even if the employee takes the polygraph, the hotel will be hard-pressed to take action without facing an EPPA claim unless the employee admits to the conduct.

Better Approach:
The solution is to establish detailed cash-handling procedures. If you’re faced with a shortage, use your internal investigation to establish that the employee had control over the money that was missing.

It's generally difficult to "prove" an employee took the missing money. You can almost always establish, however, that the person failed to follow your cash-handling procedures. Therefore, the employee can be terminated for failing to handle cash in accordance with hotel policy.

Source: Hospitality Workforce Trends: A Monthly Newsletter on Employment Law and Employee Relations, published by M. Lee Smith Publishers. For more information call 800-274-6774.

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