South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Employer Can Give Lie Detector Tests Only in Limited Instances
Description

Appeals court held that an employee’s rights under the Employee Polygraph Protection Act had been violated when she was fired after refusing to take a lie detector test. The company did not fall under one of the exemptions that allow lie detector tests to be used.

Topic Employment Law
Key Words

Lie Detector Test; Employee Polygraph Protection Act; Exemptions; Violation

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

Polkey was the supervisor of five employees in the mailroom at the Pensacola Naval Air Station (NAS). The mailroom was run by Transtecs, a company hired by the government to provide mail service. Polkey discovered that some mail had been tampered with in the mailroom. She reported that to her supervisor. Transtecs asked all six mailroom employees to take a lie detector test. It was given first to the employee they most suspected. His lie detector test indicated he might have been the one. Transtecs then wanted to test the other employees, but they all refused. Transtecs then fired Polkey, claiming she violated a company policy not related to the lie detector test. She sued Transtecs for violating the Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA). The district court granted her summary judgment. Transtecs appealed.

Decision

Affirmed. Transtecs violated the EPPA by requesting or even suggesting that employees take the polygraph test. Transtecs claims that it falls under an exemption to the law that applies in cases of national security, since it worked for the military. That exemption is not available, as it only applies to the government in such matters. The other exemption Transtecs claimed, that it used the test as part of an ongoing investigation of Polkey, because she was under suspicion, was not available either. The employer could not show that she was under investigation for “reasonable suspicion” of tampering with the mail. For this exemption to apply, an employer must have “an observable, articulable basis in fact which indicates that a particular employee was involved in, or responsible for, an economic loss.” Polkey was entitled to summary judgment.

Citation

Polkey v. Transtrecs Corp., 404 F.3d 1264 (11 th Cir., 2005)

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