Pre-employment physical tests draw EEOC scrutiny

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is cracking down on companies that use pre-employment physical stress tests to weed out female job applicants.

The agency says it is paying especially close attention to companies that try to screen out applicants with pre-existing injuries and/or medical conditions after applicants had already received a conditional employment offer.

The EEOC has been ramping up its focus on recruitment and hiring practices that discriminate against racial, ethnic and religious groups, as well as older workers, women and people with disabilities.

It has filed lawsuits across the country against employers, accusing them of creating illegal barriers to employment for women and individuals with disabilities.

For example, in one lawsuit, the agency sued a trucking company alleging the employer violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by using a pre-employment “back assessment” testing applicants’ ability to balance and stand on one leg and touch their toes while standing on one leg.

Physical ability tests, or PATS, can be useful tools when hiring employees for physically demanding jobs and can improve worker safety. But such tests are susceptible to claims of what’s known as “disparate impact discrimination,” so employers should make sure a safety expert properly validates their tests.

And because job requirements and qualifications can change, we advise employers to occasionally revalidate their PATs to make sure that their tests are still measuring only necessary job skills.

EEOC guidelines for physical strength tests say they must be job-related and “consistent with business necessity.”

“Employers should ensure that tests and selection procedures are not adopted casually by managers who know little about these processes,” the EEOC warns on its website. “No test or selection procedure should be implemented without an understanding of its effectiveness and limitations for the organization, its appropriateness for a specific job, and whether it can be appropriately administered and scored.”

About the Author

Will Temby

Will has enjoyed a 20-year career in leadership positions in the hospitality and travel industry throughout the U.S. with the Hyatt, Sheraton, Hilton, Renaissance and Steamboat Ski and Resort corporations. Will received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. From 2000-2007, he served as President and CEO of the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. He also served as Vice President-Special Projects for the University of Colorado Foundation from 2007 to 2009. Will is a past Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Homeland Defense Foundation and former member of the United States Chamber of Commerce Committee of 100. He is married to Nan, has five wonderful children, and enjoys coaching, traveling, hiking, golfing and skiing.

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