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Firms put employees through lie-detector test

business Updated: Jul 02, 2012 01:33 IST

Truth is in demand. Especially in the corporate world.

In order to deal with cases of espionage, frauds and fake CVs, business houses are turning to their new best friend — the polygraph machine. Many firms are now approaching private forensic laboratories to conduct polygraph (lie-detection) tests on employees for various reasons.

Take the case of a Maharashtra-based factory gutted a few months ago. Suspecting an insider's involvement, the insurance company referred 10 employees of the factory to a private lab in Mumbai for polygraph tests. The results revealed that two of them knew the exact cause of the fire. End result: the insurance claim was rejected.

"Polygraph can be used in a corporate setup to check thefts in the organisation, leakage of confidential information to competitors or even to verify sexual harassment allegations," Rukmani Krishnamurthy, CEO, Helik advisory, a Mumbai-based private forensic laboratory, said, adding that the test costs anything between Rs. 10,000 and Rs. 50,000.

Similarly, when a multinational company headquartered in New Delhi suspected that a top-level executive was leaking sensitive company information to its competitors, he was subjected to a polygraph examination.

The result confirmed the suspicion, resulting in the sacking of the employee.

In another incident, an employee of a multinational company in Mumbai alleged that her colleague molested her at an office party. The HR department referred the case to a private lab and a polygraph test was conducted.

The employee accused of harassment "moved on" soon after for "better opportunities".

While such ‘moment of truth' checks seem to be a growing trend in the corporate sector, subjecting an employee to a polygraph test might give rise to legal tangles. "According to the law, the laboratory conducting the test has to ensure that the subjects have voluntarily consented in writing and are mentally fit to undergo the test," said Krishnamurthy, who is the former director of the state-run Maharashtra Forensic Science Lab.

But what if the employee is not in a position to refuse to undergo the test? "If there is any indication of direct or indirect coercion by the employer, then it becomes illegal and the guilty party can be booked under section 341 of the IPC that stands for punishment for wrongful restraint," said IPS officer-turned-lawyer YP Singh. "In case an employee is sacked because of this test, he has the civil remedy whereby he can sue the employer for defamation," he added.

The rising number of forensic labs in metros such as New Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai and Bangalore has been handy for companies. For instance, Truth Labs, the country's first private forensic service provider, has been in the business since 2009.

Private laboratories claim that two to three companies approach them and about 10-15 people undergo tests every month.

What SC says:
On May 5, 2010, the SC ruled compulsory brain mapping, narco-analysis and lie detector tests unconstitutional as they violate individual rights. "We hold that no individual should be forcibly subjected to any of the techniques in question, whether in the context of investigation in criminal cases or otherwise. Doing so would amount to an unwarranted intrusion into personal liberty," a bench of Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan, and justices RV Raveendran and JM Panchal had said then.