Honesty Tests Work! So Why Don’t More Companies Use Them?

Honesty Tests Work!
So Why Don’t More Companies Use Them?


Employee theft isn’t something new;­­ people have been talking (and complaining) about it for decades.  It is, and continues to be, a major problem for employers for many reasons.

A recent Oct 2022 article lists over 60 alarming employee theft statistics[i], such as:

  • 75% of employees have stolen at least once from their employer. [ii]
  • 90% of all significant theft losses come from employees.[iii]
  • 60% of employees would steal if they knew they wouldn’t get caught.[iv]
  • 72% of all occupational fraud is committed by men.[v]
  • Employee theft costs businesses $50 billion annually.[vi]

There are thousands of articles about companies who’ve been taken to the cleaners or had their reputations irreparably damaged by dishonest employees.  Just last week, Amazon made headlines after two employees managed to embezzle almost $10 Million dollars before being caught.[vii]

In another case, former music retailer HMV made national news when one of its employees was caught selling stolen CDs and had defrauded the company of over $50,000 before being caught.  When approached about implementing honesty tests, they claimed that the incident in question was an aberration and that they did a fine job of screening applicants.  Despite their self-confidence, they’d missed one, and it’s statistically unlikely that an organization with over 7000 employees and hundreds of locations had only one sticky-fingered employee.[viii]  As Yogi Berra used to say, “There are some people who, if they don’t already know, you can’t tell ’em.”[ix]

Here’s the thing, dishonest people don’t just wake up one day and suddenly decide to become thieves.  Most of them were already bent and had questionable ethics before they were hired.

In our 40+ years of experience providing assessments to organizations, the overwhelming majority of enquiries about honesty tests come only after someone’s been burned.   Although there are no silver bullets that are 100% reliable at identifying would-be thieves and those with broken moral compasses, there are solutions available that are accurate, reliable, and legal, and which simply ‘work’.

Honesty tests have been around for 60 years.  The highly respected California Psychological Inventory was first published in 1956.  While the test was still in development, recruiters for retailer Bloomingdale’s contacted the author, looking for a test that would identify applicants likely to cheat, lie or steal.[x]  Since then many such tools have come to market.  Some are ‘pure’ honesty tests that only assess that trait, while others incorporate integrity into broader personality measures.

They also work!

Integrity tests will not eliminate dishonesty or theft at work, but the research does strongly suggest that individuals who score poorly on these tests tend to be less suitable and less productive employees.  They have also been shown to be valid predictors of overall job performance as well as many counterproductive behaviors such as absenteeism, illicit drug use, and theft.[xi]

Even though they are so popular, effective, and widely used, one State refuses to allow employers to use them.  Massachusetts is the only state that bans any written test, whether psychological or polygraph, that is used to determine the integrity of the applicant.[xii]

Despite that, many organizations think that they’re immune or believe, incorrectly, that criminal background checks and behavioural interviewing techniques are sufficient.  They’re mistaken.  If it were that easy, then honesty tests wouldn’t exist.

Stealing and lying are skills like anything else, and some people are very good at both.  Identifying them before hiring them is the trick, and honesty tests will help you do it.  They aren’t perfect[xiii] but they’re far superior to relying on just gut instinct and criminal background checks.  Recruiters who believe that they can successfully identify dishonest applicants via resumes, background checks, and an interview are simply wrong.  What you don’t know really can hurt you.

The moral of the story is that if it can happen to Amazon and HMV, then it can absolutely happen to you as well (and probably will, eventually).

Creative Organizational Design carries almost two dozen tests that are designed to measure honesty and integrity.  They enable employers to assess applicants for:

  • Absenteeism
  • Aggressive tendencies
  • Driving Delinquency
  • Fraud
  • Illegal drug or alcohol use attitudes (these can only be used in the USA)
  • Integrity
  • Theft of company merchandise
  • Willingness to comply with workplace policies

Most also have an internal, built-in deception, impression management or faking scale to help rate the veracity of the responses given on the test.

It takes only one employee to rob you blind, cost you tons of money, and damage your reputation.  Unless you’re a human lie-detector you’re risking hiring someone who’s willing and able to rob you blind the second your back is turned.

Employers who think that they’re too good to get caught often end up in the news, and for all the wrong reasons.  Ask Amazon if they still think that their vetting process is working this week.

If you’d like to minimize the risk of on boarding a potential future thief, we have the kinds of solutions that you’re looking for.  See our honesty tests here or contact us to find out how to make them a part of your employee screening process.


David Towler is President of Creative Organizational Design, a firm offering nearly 40 years of expertise specializing in employee assessments and which has over 2000 different product titles available. Creative Organizational Design has 100s of assessment tools designed to help employers screen out other people’s rejects, assess skills, aptitude, attitude and ‘fit’ within an organization. For more information about the options available and help selecting the best tools for your needs please contact us.  Please send comments about this article to dtowler@creativeorgdesign.com.


[i] https://www.embroker.com/blog/employee-theft-statistics/

[ii] https://www.calrest.org/labor-employment/employee-theft-why-do-employees-steal

[iii] https://community.mis.temple.edu/tkaye/files/2017/08/RMI-2901-Part-2-submission.pdf

[iv] https://www.awci.org/cd/pdfs/9004_g.pdf

[v] https://acfepublic.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/2020-Report-to-the-Nations.pdf

[vi] https://www.awci.org/cd/pdfs/9004_g.pdf

[vii] https://www.thestar.com.my/tech/tech-news/2022/12/05/amazon-workers-stole-nearly-us10mil-from-company-to-buy-real-estate-luxury-cars-us-cops-say

[viii] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20130214190038-2967511-inside-hmv-s-twitter-disaster-what-went-wrong-and-how-to-keep-your-company-safe/

[ix] https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/yogi_berra_100169

[x] https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/pages/0611roberts.aspx

[xi] https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/assessment-and-selection/other-assessment-methods/integrityhonesty-tests/

[xii] https://bwlaw.blogs.com/employment_law_bits/2012/09/in-the-early-1990s-target-was-embroiled-in-litigation-due-to-a-particular-hiring-practice-psychologically-testing-its-em.html

[xiii] https://resources.workable.com/stories-and-insights/employee-integrity-tests


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