Important Warning: The Pitfalls of Physical Abilities Testing

[fa icon="calendar'] Aug 24, 2015 8:30:00 AM / by Deborah Lechner

Pre hire physical abilities testing is an exceptional tool for employers who are striving to increase workplace safety, reduce employee injuries, control workers' comp costs and improve the hiring process to reduce bad hires and employee turnover. However, if you are considering putting this type of pre employment testing to work for your company, reaping those benefits means designing a solid testing program – one that avoids the potential pitfalls of physical abilities testing. So just what are these pitfalls and what do you need to know to avoid them?

Timing Matters

Perhaps the most important thing employers need to know is when to test job candidates in order to avoid legal and regulatory pitfalls. Post offer, pre employment is the best time to test, and here's why: Most physical abilities tests are strenuous, which means that for the sake of safety, as well as accurate appraisal of a person's fitness, monitoring physiological factors like blood pressure and heart rate are standard operating procedure. Under ADA regulations, monitoring these factors places a test in the category of a medical examination; under those same regulations, medical exams cannot be requested or performed until after a conditional offer of employment has been extended.

Be Specific With Your Testing Methods – And How You Evaluate Results

To be compliant with the ADA, physical abilities tests must correlate with the specific physical demands of the job for which a candidate is applying. That means if you're using generic pre employment testing such as general strength or endurance testing, you're leaving your company wide open to legal problems. To avoid this particular pitfall, a test should be based upon a thorough job analysis, one which identifies the specific physical demands of a position, ensuring that you're testing a candidate's ability to perform the essential functions of the actual job for which they are applying.

Why is a job analysis so important? Under the ADA, hiring decisions must be made on the basis of whether a candidate's abilities match specific job demands or not. Whether or not your candidate is as capable as the average person is not really relevant for determining suitability for a position, nor is such a comparison ADA compliant. What you do need to know is whether the candidate's physical abilities are a good match for the demands of that position. That means that using normative data – comparing a person's results to a group of "norms" – isn't the way to go in an effective, ADA compliant and legally defensible physical abilities testing program.

Beware of Claims that Testing Predicts Future Injuries

The aim of physical abilities testing is to reduce worker injuries, not predict them. Claiming that a test is predictive of injury is a risky proposition, opening the door to lawsuits unless there is solid scientific data available to back that claim. Such claims about pre employment testing are better avoided, since they generally are not legally defensible. Instead of predicting injury, test results should simply show how the applicant's physical abilities compare to the physical demands of the job.

All in all, the best way to avoid all of the pitfalls and reap the benefits of pre employment physical abilities testing is to be very careful when choosing a testing provider. To ensure a solid, compliant, and defensible testing program, your provider must have a thorough understanding of the medico-legal issues surrounding this type of testing; use reliable, validated assessment tools; and be willing to help ensure that employers, as well as everyone else involved in the testing process, knows how to apply those tools correctly and consistently in the screening of job applicants.

Physical Abilities Testing ROI Whitepaper

Topics: Pre Employment Screening

Deborah Lechner

Written by Deborah Lechner

Deborah Lechner, ErgoScience President, combines an extensive research background with 25-plus years of clinical experience. Under her leadership, ErgoScience continues to use the science of work to improve workplace safety, productivity and profitability.