Fact Sheet #36
The Department of Labor administers and enforces the Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988 (the Act) through the Wage and Hour Division of the Employment Standards Administration. The Act generally prevents employers engaged in interstate commerce from using lie detector tests either for pre-employment screening or during the course of employment, with certain exemptions. The Act, signed by the President on June 27, 1988, became effective on December 27, 1988.
Under the Act, the Secretary of Labor is directed to distribute a notice of the Act's protections, to issue rules and regulations, and to enforce the provisions of the Act. The Act empowers the Secretary of Labor to bring injunctive actions in U.S. district courts to restrain violations, and to assess civil money penalties up to $10,000 against employers who violate any provision of the Act. Employers are required to post notices summarizing the protections of the Act in their places of work.
An employer shall not:
Federal, state and local governments are excluded. In addition, lie detector tests administered by the Federal Government to employees of Federal contractors engaged in national security intelligence or counterintelligence functions are exempt. The Act also includes limited exemptions where polygraph tests (but no other lie detector tests) may be administered in the private sector, subject to certain restrictions:
Qualifications of examiners
An examiner is required to have a valid and current license if required by a State in which the test is to be conducted, and must maintain a minimum of $50,000 bond or professional liability coverage.
Employee/prospective employee rights
An employee or prospective employee must be given a written notice explaining the employee's or prospective employee's rights and the limitations imposed, such as prohibited areas of questioning and restriction on the use of test results. Among other rights, an employee or prospective employee may refuse to take a test, terminate a test at any time, or decline to take a test if he/she suffers from a medical condition. The results of a test alone cannot be disclosed to anyone other than the employer or employee/prospective employee without their consent or, pursuant to court order, to a court, government agency, arbitrator or mediator.
Under the exemption for ongoing investigations of work place incidents involving economic loss, a written or verbal statement must be provided to the employee prior to the polygraph test which explains the specific incident or activity being investigated and the basis for the employer's reasonable suspicion that the employee was involved in such incident or activity.
Where polygraph examinations are permitted under the Act, they are subject to strict standards concerning the conduct of the test, including the pre-test, testing and post-test phases of the examination.
Civil actions may be brought by an employee or prospective employee in Federal or State court against employers who violate the Act for legal or equitable relief, such as employment reinstatement, promotion, and payment of lost wages and benefits. The action must be brought within 3 years of the date of the alleged violation.
For more information, get in touch with the nearest office of the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division.