Israel: “Knesset Okays Bill Prohibiting Lie Detector Test for Employees”

Zvi Zrahiya reports for Ha’aretz. This short article is cited here in full:

The Knesset’s Labor and Welfare Committee on Wednesday approved a bill preventing employers from requesting or demanding that a job candidate undergo a lie detector test.

The bill, submitted by MK Yehiel Hazan (Likud), sets special circumstances under which an employer would be allowed to request that an employee undergo a lie detector test.

One of the reasons the bill gives for a polygraph test is a disciplinary investigation being held against the employee. Another reason is an investigation on an event which may cause substantial damage and which raises a reasonable suspicion against the employee’s involvement, while no other reasonable way to check the employee’s involvement is available.

According to the bill, the employer will be obliged to provide the employee with detailed information on the purpose of the test and the use that may be done with its results. The employer will have to give the employee a reasonable amount of time to provide a written agreement in the presence of a lawyer to undergo the test.

The bill sets instructions about providing the employee with the test results and prohibits the use of results of a lie detector test that was performed against the law’s instructions.

The bill also prohibits the employer or any other person to exploit an employee’s refusal to undergo a polygraph test.

The bill does not apply to the defense authorities, including the Israel Defense Forces, Israel Police, the Shin Bet security service, the Mossad, and the Knesset Guard.

MK Shaul Yahalom (National Religious Party), chairman of the Knesset’s Labor and Welfare Committee, said on Wednesday that the bill was important for strengthening employees’ rights.

By excluding military and intelligence agencies from the protections of this antipolygraph legislation, Israel is committing the same error that the United States made in 1988, when it created a double-standard by giving federal, state, and local governments an unjustified blanket exemption from the Employee Polygraph Protection Act.

University of Toronto professor of psychology John J. Furedy adds the following commentary:

Just as the ancient Romans knew there was something wrong with entrails reading, but were so desperate to know the future for really important events that they employed it, so both the Americans and Israelis know that the polygraph is flawed, but when it comes to really important things like security, they superstitiously accept its use.

There is also a confusion of ethical with logical considerations. In ethical terms, it makes sense to protect individual rights when all that is involved is wrongly classifying a dishonest employee, but not when the error entails danger to the nation. However, in logical terms, whatever flaws the polygraph has as an employee screener, the same flaws are present as a spy screener. These logical flaws include the fact that it’s not a “test” in the sense that an IQ test is a test, the comparison between relevant and “control” questions makes no scientific sense (i.e., its rationale is non-sensical), and the fact that there has been no systematic evidence produced that indicates that the psychophysiological information that is provided actually improves accuracy.

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