n South African Journal of Labour Relations - Employee polygraph testing in the South African workplace : forum section

Volume 32, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0379-8410
  • E-ISSN: 2520-3223



Since the mid-1990s, South Africa's industry has seen extensive use of polygraph testing and the trend continues to grow, despite the ongoing debate surrounding the polygraph's accuracy. Its use in private employment is not regulated and hence an employer can require its employees to undergo testing at any time for any purpose. Employees are disciplined and / or dismissed because they fail an examination or simply refuse to take one, while job applicants are not employed. Many employers use employment contracts which contain a polygraph clause. Test results are accepted as evidence in labour disputes. The law also permits polygraph testing in some parts of the public sector.

Although polygraph examinations are extensively used in the private and public sectors, the subject matter is not receiving sufficient attention. This paper briefly looks at the theoretical foundation of polygraph testing and its empirical basis in the employment context. We then examine the legitimacy of polygraph testing in terms of international labour law. The ILO, for example, states explicitly that polygraph testing should not be used under any circumstances. The paper also considers the United States of America, which experienced a similar situation in the 1980s, with about two million tests administered to employees every year. Finally, Germany has always demonstrated a general rejection of polygraph testing, and it has no known application in employment. The approaches of these two countries could be instructive in finding solutions to South Africa's problems.

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