Honesty Testing: Estimating and Reducing the False Positive Rate
SCOTT L. MARTIN
Paper-and-pencil tests designed to predict employee theft and counterproductivity in the workplace are becoming increasingly popular among employers. The increased use of honesty tests is at least partly due to the fact that employee theft has increased over the past two decades ( American Management Association, 1977; Bales, 1988; Jones, 1981; U.S. Department of Commerce, 1972). It has been estimated that the cost of internal theft to American businesses may exceed $40 billion per year ( Palmiotto, 1983). In addition, as a result of the law prohibiting the use of polygraphs for preemployment screening by private employers, which took effect on December 27, 1988, the use of paper-and-pencil honesty tests is likely to become even more prevalent.
Controversy has surrounded the increased use of honesty testing in industry. An initial source of concern has been the research used to support the validity of honesty tests. Sackett and Harris ( 1984) and Sackett, Burris, and Callahan ( 1988) have examined the use of paper-and-pencil predictors of employee theft. At the time of the Sackett and Harris ( 1984) review, the data available to support the validity of honesty tests were refutable. However, the second review highlights more conclusive evidence supporting the validity of honesty tests. In contrast to the earlier review, this evidence was based on larger, predictive validation studies involving employees who were dismissed for theft and other forms of counterproductivity in the workplace. As a result, the authors find the evidence "more compelling" and conclude that honesty tests can help organizations predict employee theft in the workplace.