In the unreported labour court case of Sedibeng District Municipality v SALGBC & 5 Others the Labour Court had to decide whether polygraph test results could be a criterion for appointing someone in a specific position.
Mr M W Moleko and Ms M Mokoena applied to be appointed as Licence Services Centre Manager and Supervisor: DLTC to the Sedibeng District Municipality, respectively. They were shortlisted and were interviewed. They were then sent for competency and polygraph tests. They consented to these tests which were performed by examiners who were not part of the municipality’s interview panel.
Eight candidates were shortlisted for the roles based on their qualifications, experience and knowledge of the work. However, these factors played no further role in the selection process once the shortlist had been compiled.
Moleko and Mokoena were the only 2 applicants who failed their polygraph test. All 4 of the successful candidates passed the polygraph tests.
During the hearing, one of the external examiners of the candidates gave evidence that he did not recommend Moleko and Mokoena for the position because the test was an examination of their honesty and integrity, which they failed. The witness testified that had it not been for the polygraph test, they would have been appointed.
In the Labour Court, the municipality argued that it was legitimate to subjectively assess candidates in the interview process. The interview process contained, legitimately so, questions aimed at assessing a candidate’s integrity. As this was legitimate to do, there was no inherent reason why polygraph testing could also not be used as a means for assessing honesty.
The court accepted that the impact of relying on polygraph test results to not promote an employee was less serious that relying on it to dismiss an employee. Employers may place greater reliance on polygraph testing as a method for assessing an applicant for a position but it cannot be the sole reason for not appointing the candidate. This would raise the same concerns about its reliability as an accurate measure of detecting deception which made the courts hesitate to accept it as decisive evidence in disciplinary cases.
The exclusive reliance on the polygraph test results as the sole proof of Moleko and Mokoena’s deceitful character (and therefore the sole reason for their non appointment) in the absence of any other information about their lack of integrity was found to be unfair.