What's a Work Capacity Test and Are You Measuring for the Right Outcomes?

[fa icon="calendar'] Apr 17, 2015 8:00:00 AM / by Deborah Lechner

In the quest to find the best employees, employers often turn to using a work capacity test to prove candidates’ physical abilities. But what is included in a proper work capacity test, and how do you know if you’re measuring the right things?

What is a work capacity test?

In general terms, a work capacity test is a set of assessments designed to evaluate the strength and work tolerance of a candidate. Because they have the potential to be quantified as “medical” in nature (i.e. they may include monitoring of heart rate, blood pressure, or other vital signs), these types of tests are legally required to be performed post-offer—that is, after a conditional offer has been made to a potential employee.

Beyond the obvious legality, this order of events is doubly beneficial to employers, as they do not have to screen every applicant, only those to whom they’ve made a conditional offer.

Work capacity tests are known by many names: pre-hire physical ability tests, post-offer screens, post-offer employment testing (POET), pre-employment screens and agility testing (among other names), but regardless of what you call them, if they are performed with specificity and intent, they are proven effective.

Is your work capacity test measuring the right things?

A good rule of thumb when answering this question is to consider how specific your test is. Consider these three pitfalls when choosing an appropriate test:

Is it one-size-fits-all?

While some test providers may consider a generic set of push-ups, sit-ups or aerobic or isokinetic strength tests as appropriate for a work capacity test, such general activities are not ADA-compliant—and they don’t give employers enough information about a candidate’s ability to perform the tasks at hand.

Be sure to choose a test series—and a test provider—that creates and administers tests based on the specific requirements of your job. How will you know if your provider gets this granular? Pre-test, they will do their homework, performing a job demands analysis that identifies the very specific physical demands of the work to be tested. Performing this type of due diligence is well worth the initial cost in the long run, as it will tightly define the parameters of the tests to be performed.

Is the data compared to normative data?

In pre-employment screening, the ADA is violated when hiring decisions are based upon a comparison of the candidate to normative data. What’s important to remember here is that it doesn’t matter whether the potential employee is in the 5th or 95th percentile as compared to a group of “norms,” it’s whether the candidate's abilities match the specific demands of the job for which they’re being considered.

Does the test purport to predict future injury?

One final item to watch out for when choosing a work capacity test provider is organizations that market their services as able to predict future injury. This claim—unless backed by significant, peer-reviewed research—is generally not defensible. What is defensible? Focusing on a clear match between a candidate’s abilities and the demands of the specific work they will be performing.

When are Physical abilities test best performed


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.