Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Congress Considers Bill to End Use of Polygraphs in Workplace

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Congress Considers Bill to End Use of Polygraphs in Workplace

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON - Lie detector tests are administered to 2 million American workers in private business every year, but bipartisan support is bu ilding in Congress for legislation that would end their use in the workplace.

Businesses ranging from banks, retailers, computer companies and hotels to drug manufacturers and jewelers use the tests in an attempt to screen out dishonest workers and to apprehend employees whohave committed crimes.

Company executives say polygraphs are one tool in efforts to reduce employee theft costing billions of dollars annually. By one estimate, employee theft raises the cost of goods to consumers by as much as 15 percent.

Even proponents concede, however, that polygraphs are not totally reliable. The Congressional Office of Technology Assessment says error rates range up to 50 percent when the devices are used in hiring workers.

Pre-employment screening accounts for 75 percent of the use of lie detectors, according to the American Polygraph Association. Some critics estimate that at least 50,000 workers a year are wrongfully denied employment, either because they refuse to take the exams or because of inaccuracies in the testing.

Abuse of the devices is rampant, says the 13.2 million-member AFL-CIO.

""Polygraphs have become vehicles for employee intimidation, and for screening out employees of political or union beliefs different from those of a particular manager,'' adds Rep. Pat Williams, D-Mont., who predicts the House will vote this year on his bill to prohibit use of the tests in the private sector.

One reason for growing interest in the issue of lie detector tests is that polygraph use in private business has increased four-fold in the 1980s.

Williams' legislation got an important boost in the Senate last month when Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, declared his support for it. Hatch and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., introduced their own version of the Williams bill.

The House bill has 164 co-sponsors, including 26 Republicans.

Courts almost uniformly refuse to admit lie detector test results as evidence of guilt or innocence and ""it is time we extend the same basic protection to workers which we offer hardened criminals,'' says Rep. Jack Kemp, R-N.Y., one of the bill's Republican supporters.

Hatch, chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, ""believes there is far too much polygraph abuse for Congress not to move to protect working men and women in this country,'' saysIrene Forde-Howard, a committee spokeswoman.

""There's no question that in some situations the polygraph is used to weed out key organizers in our campaigns and to ferret out people who would be inclined to join a union,'' said Mike Tiner, a lobbyist for the 1 million-member United Food and Commercial Workers union, one of the AFL-CIO's largest affiliates.

More than 20 states and the District of Columbia prohibit or limit the use of polygraphs in private employment under most conditions. …

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