Lie detector tests for job applicants

Telling the odd fib may be OK but would you lie to your potential boss to get a job?

Polygraph, or lie detector, tests are now being offered to New Zealand companies and recruitment agencies for use in pre-employment checks. The test is part of a growing industry in background checking of new staff, as employers become more aware of the need to make sure they are hiring the correct person.

But critics claim the data collection - which can include checks into a person's ACC history, with their permission - are excessive and take advantage of desperate job seekers.

Resume Check owner James Sutherland, whose company offers comprehensive background check packages - including research into a person's ACC history, immigration status and credit rating - said most candidates were accepting of the process.

Any information collected must be relevant to the role, and this was monitored carefully.

"If it's not relevant, they don't do it and all of our clients are aware of their obligations."

Each potential employee had to sign a form allowing the checks to be done, and nothing was forced.

But Labour Party associate labour spokeswoman Darien Fenton said she was concerned about the amount of data being collected in pre-employment checks.

She believed it was "over the top" to ask people for their ACC history and was convinced people who were desperate for a job would agree to have the information released even if they were uncomfortable with it.

"If you're applying for a job or in a vulnerable situation you're going to agree to it, if you want the job you'll agree."

Personal Verification Ltd principal Craig Gubbins, one of only two licensed polygraph testers in New Zealand, said at present it was mostly security companies who were using the tests.

Any information collected from polygraphs or other checks was destroyed after six months.

Lie Detector New Zealand director Barry Newman, the second licensed tester, said demand in the pre-employment area had been low since he launched last year.

Most of his work involved questions of infidelity, with employers unsure about using the technology in the workplace.

"They don't want to put someone through the polygraph in case it comes back to bite them in the bum." He hoped employers embraced the technology, which was common in Europe.

"People lie on written applications and this would weed that out. If they really want the job and they're honest, they've got nothing to worry about."

Employment lawyer Blair Scotland said employers needed to be careful they were only collecting relevant information.

"Are the questions fair, relevant, and is the manner of collecting it satisfactory?"

Assistant privacy commissioner Katrine Evans agreed, advising potential employers to consider whether it was really necessary to know someone's ACC history or hook them up to a lie-detecting machine.

"Before shelling out for a highly intrusive service like polygraph testing, common sense as well as privacy rules mean you should check that it's something that you really need and that you have a really good case which can be justified under the Privacy Act."

Things you may be asked

"Are you intentionally falsifying or omitting any information on your application forms?"

"Are you intentionally withholding any information about your involvement with illegal drugs?"

"Have you ever committed any serious crime?"

"Have you intentionally mishandled any classified information?"

"Have you been involved in terrorist activity?"

The Dominion Post