We were contacted by an employer regarding employee absenteeism in Belfast who thought his employee was being dishonest about sickness.

Q: Can I force my employee to take a lie detector test to prove she is ill?

I run a small media business and am looking for some advice.  As a new start up I am being crippled financially by one of my employees (we only have 2). I have a member of staff, Antonia, who is off sick due to depression. I appreciate this may seem slightly out of order, as mental health is a very serious thing but I really don’t trust her.

Antonia came to work for me over a year ago. For the first 6 months she was an amazing employee. After around 7 months she started to go off sick, a day here and a day there. It was always an upset stomach or a cold. I called her in for a sickness review meeting and asked her about his last 3 occasions and what they were for. Antonia said she couldn’t remember. The sickness instances were recent so she should have remembered in my opinion. I gave her an official warning.

As I’m sure you are aware, employees are allowed 7 days without a doctor’s note.  The day after the warning Antonia called in sick again. She claims the stress at work has caused her to be depressed. I know how easy it is to get signed of work with mental health issues.  From and employer’s and doctor’s perspective it’s better to be safe than sorry, compensation culture being what it is. I’m wondering if I could make her take a lie detector test. I’ve been considering introducing this into my contracts but it isn’t in Antonia’s contract at present.

L. M., Belfast

Polygraph Examiner’s response to Employee Absenteeism in Belfast

You most definitely can’t force any employee to take a lie detector test.  All polygraph tests must be taken voluntarily.  Had you included them in your contracts of employment, the employee would be obliged to take them on request.  Failure to confirm would mean further in depth investigation into the offending behaviour, which could then lead to dismissal.

Our commercial polygraph services are used for a variety of reason in the UK including Northern Ireland.  Theft in the workplace and employee absenteeism in Belfast is often the reasons that lie detector tests are implemented.  Employers also use our services in the pre-employment screening process as well as for periodic tests on existing employees.

How to get employees to take lie detector tests

The way employers achieve this is to either include the tests in employment contracts or to send out a memo for employees to sign.  The memo asks them to agree to a lie detector test for whichever specified reason applicable.  By signing the memo they are giving their consent for a test to be conducted.

A person who is innocent is unlikely to refuse a test.  However, some people worry that natural nervousness might affect their results. In circumstances where an employee won’t participate, polygraph examiners can be consulted to put their minds at rest.  When they still refuse to take a lie detector test, employers may wish to dig a little deeper into their activities.

Employee absenteeism in Belfast and anywhere else is a problem, especially for small businesses, but in your case you will have to follow traditional rules in order to resolve your situation.  That is of course, unless Antonia agrees to a polygraph examination.  If she does, we will be more than happy to conduct it.

For more advice on what you can do, the Labour Relations Agency website is extremely helpful.

Good luck.


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