Lie detector ruled invalid as substitute for disciplinary hearing

Subjecting employees to a lie-detector test is no substitute for a disciplinary hearing, the Labour Court has ruled

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‘At best, the polygraph test can prove that a person lied, not that he is necessarily guilty of a crime or misconduct,’ Judge Annali Basson said. A Cape Times report says Basson awarded compensation of a year’s salary to 32 employees of Blue Ribbon Bakeries who were retrenched after a violent 2007 strike. The company said it was unable to hold disciplinary hearings against the 32, who it believed were involved in the violence, because witnesses were too afraid to testify. Instead, it retrenched the workers after offering them a chance to take lie detector tests.Basson said in her ruling that Blue Ribbon had wanted to use the polygraph to find out which of the 32 were involved in strike violence. She said that after hearing expert testimony, she was not persuaded the polygraph was a reasonable or fair way of minimising the planned retrenchments. ‘In the context of a disciplinary process the polygraph can be a useful tool in the investigation process, but can never substitute the need for a disciplinary hearing,’ she said.

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