Pre-Employment Physical Abilities Testing: The Devil's in the Details

[fa icon="calendar'] Oct 27, 2015 8:00:00 AM / by Deborah Lechner

A Pre-hire Physical Ability Test (PAT) program works to ensure that workers you hire are well-matched in terms of physical capabilities to the everyday demands of the jobs into which they will be placed. The testing adds a new element of accuracy to the hiring process, reducing bad hires and employee turnover. PAT also increases workplace safety, lowering injury rates among your workers and reducing the steep costs associated with those injuries. These are factors that benefit both your workers and your company's bottom line.

Benefits, and Liabilities, of Pre-hire Physical Abilities Testing

While a candidate physical ability testing program offers undeniable benefits, the test must be designed and implemented in a manner that is compliant with employment regulations pertaining to pre-employment testing. You also need your program to be legally defensible, which basically means being prepared to prove your compliance via careful documentation of key details of your PAT program. Otherwise, PAT could become a liability to your business, opening the door to regulatory actions and lawsuits.

What key details must be documented to ensure that your program will stand up to regulatory or legal scrutiny? Documented evidence of test validity and reliability is essential, including details such as:

  • Pass/Fail criteria should be narrowly – and accurately – focused on the physical demands of the specific job for which the candidate has applied, as determined by a detailed job demands analysis
  • Tests should reliably and accurately measure the ability of candidates to perform the essential functions of the job – in other words, they are not screening out candidates who are capable of performing well or screening in those who cannot function safely and effectively in the workplace.
  • Tests results should also be uniformly applied, which means all candidates for a particular job are tested and results of those tests are applied consistently.
  • Tests should be built upon research-backed testing protocols.

If your candidate physical ability test programs create a situation that regulators term “adverse impact” – which means that it disproportionately screens out members of a protected class – you must be prepared to show that all components of the test are job-related and consistent with business necessity. That means keeping careful records of candidate test results in order to be able to detect higher fail rates among protected groups. If adverse impact is an issue, proving that- the test is “job-related and consistent with business necessity” will be critical.

How to ensure effective physical abilities testing

Additionally, an effective, reliable physical ability test will involve monitoring of some physiological factors important for candidate safety, such as blood pressure or heart rate. Under federal employment regulations, any test that monitors physiological factors is considered a medical test, and can only be administered after a conditional offer of employment has been made. Keeping documentation of those pre-test offers is necessary to ensure that you can prove your compliance.

While this is not an all-inclusive “defensibilty” list, it does touch upon the more important details required to ensure that your candidate physical ability test program creates substantial injury reduction and cost savings without putting you at risk of regulatory and legal problems. Your best bet for ensuring that you cover all your bases is to work with a consultant who is well versed in employment law as you design and implement your program – one who uses testing methods backed by published research and appropriate validation studies to eliminate or justify adverse impact as necessary.

Are you ready to take you pre-hire physical abilities testing to the next level?

Book a free 30-minute discovery call to find out what a good testing program could do for the health of your employees, and your bottom line!

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legal considerations in Physical Abilities Testing


Topics: Legal Issues

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.