Voice Stress Test for Employment Screening: Science Fiction or Scientific Breakthrough

A recent story from Canada in The Vancouver Sun – ‘Controversial device popular with public, private employers’ – reveals that while tests using a “truth verification” device called a Computerized Voice Stress Analyzer (CVSA) to screen job applicants in British Columbia are becoming increasingly popular with employers, the accuracy rate is being questioned as some studies have shown the device to do no better than pure chance.

As stated on the website of the Victoria firm that licenses the Canadian rights to the device from a United States company, the CVSA  “measures small frequency modulations in the voice. These inaudible variations, when detected, measured and displayed, accurately determine the truthfulness of each statement elicited from a test subject.” The owners of the Canadian firm claim the device has an accuracy rate of 98 per cent when used in conjunction with expert interrogation techniques taught by the firm.

The Vancouver Sun reports the American company that licenses the CVSA device claims it is “used by 1,800 local, state, and federal agencies, as well as by U.S. Military Special Operations and Intelligence units.” Voice stress analyzers have become popular in the United States since the September 2001 terrorist attack on New York City despite many researchers concluding that no published research studies have demonstrated that Voice Stress Analyzer (VSA) programs can distinguish between regular stress and stress related to deception.

In a 2007 study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and cited in the story where researchers used the CVSA device to ask people arrested about their recent drug use in order to compare their answers with urine test results, the voice stress analyzer program failed to efficiently determine who was being deceptive. “The programs were not able to detect deception at a rate any better than chance,” the study concluded.

Due to the popularity and questionable accuracy of the Computerized Voice Stress Analyzer device, the issue for employers is to determine whether the CVSA test is a valid predictor of job performance and is non-discriminatory. Also, if the Computerized Voice Stress Analyzer is considered a polygraph test, then can it be used under the U.S. law that prohibits polygraph tests?
 
The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988 (EPPA) generally prevents employers from using lie detector tests, either for pre-employment screening or during the course of employment, with certain exemptions. The basic provisions and requirements of the EPPA for employers are as follows:

The EPPA prohibits most private employers from using lie detector tests, either for pre-employment screening or during the course of employment. Employers generally may not require or request any employee or job applicant to take a lie detector test, or discharge, discipline, or discriminate against an employee or job applicant for refusing to take a test or for exercising other rights under the Act.

Employers may not use or inquire about the results of a lie detector test or discharge or discriminate against an employee or job applicant on the basis of the results of a test, or for filing a complaint or for participating in a proceeding under the Act.

Subject to restrictions, the Act permits polygraph (a type of lie detector) tests to be administered to certain job applicants of security service firms (armored car, alarm, and guard) and of pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, and dispensers.

Subject to restrictions, the Act also permits polygraph testing of certain employees of private firms who are reasonably suspected of involvement in a workplace incident (theft, embezzlement, etc.) that resulted in specific economic loss or injury to the employer.

Where polygraph examinations are allowed, they are subject to strict standards for the conduct of the test, including the pretest, testing, and post-testing phases. An examiner must be licensed and bonded or have professional liability coverage. The Act strictly limits the disclosure of information obtained during a polygraph test.

Under employee rights, the EPPA provides that employees have a right to employment opportunities without being subjected to lie detector tests, unless a specific exemption applies. Where polygraph examinations are allowed, they are subject to strict standards and specific notices must be given to employees or prospective employees. The EPPA also provides employees with the right to file a lawsuit for violations of the Act.

For more information about The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988 (EPPA), visit: http://www.dol.gov/compliance/laws/comp-eppa.htm.

For more information about employment screening background checks, visit the Employment Screening Resources (ESR) website at http://www.ESRcheck.com.

Founded in 1996 in the San Francisco, CA area with a mission to help both employers and employees maintain safe workplaces, Employment Screening Resources (ESR) wrote the book on background checks with ‘The Safe Hiring Manual’ by ESR founder and President Lester Rosen and is accredited by The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS). For more information about Employment Screening Resources (ESR), please visit http://www.ESRcheck.com or email ESR News Editor Thomas Ahearn at tahearn@ESRcheck.com. 

Sources:
http://www.vancouversun.com/opinion/Controversial+device+popular+with+public+private+employers/4429768/story.html
http://www.dol.gov/compliance/guide/eppa.htm 
http://www.dol.gov/compliance/guide/eppa.htm#BasicPro