Courtbacks workers on polygraphs

SUBJECTING one's employees to a lie detector test is no substitute for an official disciplinary hearing, the labour court has found.

SUBJECTING one's employees to a lie detector test is no substitute for an official disciplinary hearing, the labour court has found.

"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 in a ruling handed down in Cape Town this week.

In the ruling she awarded compensation of a year's salary to 32 employees of Blue Ribbon Bakeries in Cape Town, who were retrenched after a violent 2007 strike.

The company said it was unable to hold disciplinary hearings against the 32 workers, who it believed were directly involved in the violence, because witnesses were too scared 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, a Premier Foods company, had wanted to use the polygraph to find out which of the 32 were involved in strike violence.

Those who passed the test might then have been excluded from the retrenchment list.

Their workers' union, the Food and Allied Workers' Union, rejected the proposal for tests, saying it was not a fair or objective way of selecting employees for retrenchment.

Basson said that after hearing expert testimony, she was not persuaded that 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. - Sapa

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