Employers who have researched the details of implementing a legally defensible Physical Abilities Testing (PAT) program realize that the tests administered to job candidates must closely reflect the job demands of the specific positions for which these individuals have applied. Although using the word "closely" in this context is common, it can mistakenly create the impression that there is more flexibility within EEOC guidelines than actually exists.
Rather than "closely," the word "exactly" would be a more accurate way of describing employer obligations under EEOC pre-employment testing guidelines. The tests administered must be an exact reflection of the physical demands these candidates, should they be hired, will be confronted with as they perform the essential functions of their specific jobs.
This means that if, for example, your PAT is assessing a candidate's ability to lift 75 pounds when the job they are applying for only requires the ability to lift 50 pounds, you could have a compliance problem. If that 50 pounds will need to be lifted to the height of 45 inches on the job, you cannot test for the ability to hoist it up to 60 inches. If workers in the position your candidate is applying for must lift that 50 pounds once every 30 minutes, testing a candidate's ability to lift it 10 times in 30 minutes does not reflect the exact physical demands of the job.
Additionally, each task included in tests must be an essential job function. In other words, it must be a task that the candidate will be expected to perform regularly in the workplace and that is essential to proper performance of the position for which he or she is being considered.
This concept is illustrated in a summary of a legal case contained within the EEOC's Fact Sheet on Employment Tests and Selection Procedures. In EEOC v. Dial Corp., female candidates were disproportionately rejected for entry-level production jobs due to a strength test, causing the EEOC to deem a significant adverse impact on women. The company defended the test on the grounds that the testing properties looked similar to the job and resulted in fewer injuries among those hired. However, the EEOC proved that the test was considerably more difficult than the actual job requirements and that the reduction in injuries was likely due to other safety measures implemented in the workplace. The case was decided against the Dial Corp. with the decision identifying the test to be in violation of Title VII under the disparate impact theory of discrimination – a decision that was upheld on appeal.
A key factor in designing and implementing a PAT program that is compliant with federal employment regulations and legally defensible is making sure tests are in alignment with the true, exact demands of the job. The key to ensuring this is to allow your testing vendor to do a thorough and detailed job analysis upfront to accurately assess the exact demands of the essential functions of the job. These demands must include the conditions in which these essential functions take place (humidity, heat, cold, noise, etc.) in order to develop PAT tests that can gauge the true ability of candidates to perform safely and efficiently in that specific work environment.
In addition, it is essential to work closely with your testing vendor to adjust your screening tests when there are changes in the essential physical requirements of jobs. Although these steps will add to the cost of developing your PAT program, given the costs and hassles involved with regulatory actions and lawsuits, being legally defensible is well worth the investment.