Firing Employees Based on Negligent Conduct of Polygraph Tests

In Graham v. Contract Transportation, Inc., 220 F.3d 910, 912 (8th Cir. 2000), the Eighth Circuit held that an employee did not have a claim against his employer when he was terminated for failing a drug test administered by an outside testing center that did not comply with DOT regulations. The court reasoned that the employee's claim of a faulty drug test was, at most, a negligent-discharge claim and thus not actionable under Iowa law. Id. at 912-13. Other courts have refused to hold employers liable for discharging at-will employees based on negligently conducted polygraph tests. See, e.g., Johnson v. Delchamps, Inc., 897 F.2d 808, 811 (5th Cir. 1990); Hall v. United Parcel Serv. of Am., Inc., 76 N.Y.2d 27, 555 N.E.2d 273, 277-78, 556 N.Y.S.2d 21 (N.Y. 1990). In finding Delchamps not liable, the Fifth Circuit noted that the at-will doctrine affords employers broad discretion in making personnel decisions. Delchamps, 897 F.2d at 811. The court reasoned that, because an employer can terminate an employee for no reason, it has no obligation to ascertain whether a termination was based on correct information after a reasonable investigation. Id. The New York Court of Appeals in Hall refused to recognize a cause of action based on allegations that an employee's polygraph test, which was negligently administered, resulted in an innocent employee's termination for theft. Hall, 555 N.E.2d at 278. The court deferred to state and federal legislative initiatives as the more appropriate avenue for addressing legitimate concerns about the consequences of an employer's use of questionable test results. Id. at 277-78. Moreover, the court noted that the Federal Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988, 29 U.S.C. 2001, which creates a private cause of action for certain violations of the Act, greatly diminished the need to recognize a new common-law tort remedy for negligently conducted polygraph tests. Id.