Polygraph Testing in South Africa

Got some serious workplace issues that require polygraph testing? Business is tough, and while it’s the goal of every entrepreneur to run a thriving, profitable business, it’s no easy feat in this day and age. In a volatile economic climate such as ours, five out of seven new businesses fold within its very first year. While finances and lack of marketing play a huge role, employees are the real culprits.

Believe it or not, the crippling effects of the incorrect employees can easily drive a company to its death. If you’re an employer looking to screen your employees in a much more efficient way, or if you’ve had to deal with misconduct, theft or fraudulent behaviour, and are considering polygraph testing, then make sure you have all the facts at hand before you commit to the process. Is it recognised by the CCMA, is it accurate, and is it enough to justify dismissal?

What is polygraph testing?

Although polygraph testing is used in other countries, it is a fairly new concept in South Africa, especially relating to workplace disputes. Similar to the criminal justice system, polygraph testing refers to a device that simultaneously measures and records selected physiological activities or electrophysiological activity.

Polygraph testing captures four types of psychological data: blood pressure, heart rate, respiration rate, and skin conductance (subcutaneous sweating). When examined, the person will either fear being caught lying and reflect that fear or their actions will reflect no fear, which is picked up by the polygraph test.

Can an employee be forced to take a polygraph test?

There has been an enormous interest in South Africa regarding the use of polygraph testing in both pre-employment and misconduct screening. But is it legal and can a business force an employee to take the test?

While it’s not illegal to perform polygraph tests in the workplace, they do not recommend it as the first course of action. If you’re in the dark about polygraph testing, here are some important facts to keep in mind:

• The test is voluntary
• Employee rights must be explained before the test commences
• Only questions discussed prior to the examination must be used
• The employee has a right to have an interpreter
• Abuse, discrimination or threats are not tolerated

Is polygraph testing enough to justify dismissal in South Africa?

In 2009, The Labour Court was confronted with a dismissal based solely on polygraph test results. In Mustek Ltd v Tsabadi NO & Others, several laptops went missing from the premises and the workers were forced to do a polygraph test. The six workers who failed the first polygraph test were retested, and the four who failed the test again were instantly dismissed. This shows that at least two of the negative results were not reliable.

After examining the use of polygraphs in the workplace, the court confirmed that the results of polygraph tests alone do not justify an employee’s dismissal. Polygraph testing, used on its own does not make up a basis for a finding of guilt and does not justify dismissal. However, if there is other evidence of misconduct, polygraph testing can be regarded as an aggravating factor and can be used in support of the other evidence.