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Employee Polygraph Protection Act

February 28, 2023 Legal Team

The Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA) protects employees and potential employees by prohibiting the use of lie detector tests by most private employers either for pre-employment screening or during the course of employment.

What is a Polygraph?

A polygraph is a test that measures and records body metrics such as blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and skin conductivity while a person is being asked questions. As the person reacts to the questions, the polygraph tracks the body’s reactions to show where they might be the most stressed. When there is more reaction in response to a question, it is interpreted as a physiological indicator that the person is being deceptive or less than truthful. Polygraphs are often used as an interrogation technique by law enforcement.

What Employers Are Allowed to Require Polygraphs?

The EPPA does not apply to federal, state, or local government agencies. That means if you apply for a government job, you may be asked to take a polygraph. You do, however, have the choice not to take it, though it may impact whether you get the job.

What Does the Employee Polygraph Protection Act Allow and Prohibit?

Here’s a basic guide to the EPPA:

  • Most employers can’t require or even request that someone take a polygraph.
  • Employers are not allowed to retaliate (e.g., fire, discipline, or discriminate) against a person or employee refusing to take a polygraph.
  • Employers cannot use or inquire about the results of a polygraph (even if you took it for another reason, such as to comply with a request from law enforcement).
  • Some employers – such as those involved in security services or pharmaceuticals – can ask some job applicants to take a polygraph, but there are some restrictions.
  • Some employers may ask their workers to take polygraphs, such as when something happens that results in a “specific economic loss or injury to the employer,” but some restrictions apply.

What Happens if an Employer Violates the EPPA?

If an employer violates the EPPA, the Secretary of Labor of the United States can bring them to court. Additionally, they can be held civilly liable and ordered to pay fines and penalties for violating the law. There is a $10,000 penalty for each violation of the law.

What Should I Do if an Employer Asks Me to Take a Lie Detector Test?

If your employer or a prospective employer asks you to take a lie detector test, you can choose whether to comply or decline. It is illegal in most cases but keep in mind that even if it is a legal request, you still can say no. If you do decline and the employer is within their right to ask for one, then they do not have to hire you.

If you believe you have been subjected to illegal polygraph testing, contact an Orange County employment lawyer for their advice on how to proceed. You or your attorney can call to notify the local office of the U.S. Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division of the violation. If you have a case, you can file a complaint by writing a letter that includes information on the employer and details on the incident. The Labor Department will investigate, and the employer can be fined up to $10,000 if a violation of EPPA is discovered. Additionally, an injunction may be issued that orders the employer to hire you, reinstate your job, compensate you for back wages, promote you, or take other necessary action to correct it.