Are gender neutral Physical Abilities Tests (PATs) a good idea or a bad one? The short answer is that they can be very good, provided that they are job-specific. These tests are an excellent means of ensuring that employees are physically capable of performing the essential functions of their jobs safely, reliably, and efficiently, helping reduce risk of on-the-job injuries in your workplace. However, they can become a liability if they are not properly designed and implemented, leaving your company vulnerable to regulatory and legal hassles.
Gender-neutral PATs are based on the principle that people doing the same job should meet the same standards, regardless of gender. For example, if you're testing the ability of potential employees to lift a 35-pound box to shoulder height two times per half-hour, test scores are based exclusively on how well they perform that task, whether a particular applicant is a 120-pound woman or a 200-pound man.
Tests that are not gender neutral, on the other hand, typically use gender-normed standards in evaluating test subjects, which means scores are affected by gender in an attempt to account for physiological differences between men and women. These tests tend to be used to determine general fitness in the recruitment stage rather than as a post-offer employee selection tool to determine a person's suitability for a specific job. These are most commonly seen in the context of extremely demanding occupations – firefighting, law enforcement, or the military, for instance.
Gender neutral PATs are the most common type of pre-employment/post-offer testing used by employers since they are, if designed and used properly, legally defensible as employment selection procedures. According to the EEOC Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures, employment tests, including Physical Abilities Tests, must be job-specific, testing factors that are closely associated with the skills needed to perform the essential functions of a particular job efficiently rather than simply measuring general fitness. Additionally, to be compliant with federal employment regulations, testing must be applied and scored consistently, with each candidate treated equally. A well-designed, gender neutral PAT meets these standards.
In a solid, gender-neutral Physical Abilities Testing program, screenings are based on a thorough job demands analysis, which identifies the essential functions of specific jobs. When designed to be job-specific, the test evaluates the physical demands that employees will face as they perform those functions. Tasks that candidates are asked to complete during testing are designed to mimic tasks they'll have to complete in the workplace, resulting in testing criteria that objectively measures a candidate's ability to meet those job-specific demands. Tests are administered across the board to each and every candidate applying for that particular position, and scoring is consistent, with each test subject scored according to objective, performance-based criteria and pass/fail cutoffs.
Additionally, a solid program will include careful record-keeping to monitor the effects of the program over time, which is critical to legal defensibility. If a PAT program creates "adverse impact," screening out more women than men, for instance, your company will need to be prepared to show that all components of the test are job-related and consistent with business necessity.
So long as all of these essential details are in place, a gender neutral Physical Abilities Test offers an effective means of reducing workplace injury rates and the steep costs associated with those injuries. Be sure you choose a test provider who is well-versed in employment law and has an excellent track record of developing and implementing research-based and validated testing methods to create effective, legally defensible PAT programs.