Employment Testing and Equal Opportunity

In today’s society, discrimination against individuals based upon factors such as age, sex, race, religion, or national origin is arguably much different than that practiced in past eras. Though the problem of job discrimination is undoubtedly still a concern facing employers and employees, such incidents tend to be much more subtle, whether intentionally or unintentionally. This is a double edged sword; on the one hand, it leads to somewhat lesser negative effects, it also makes legal statutes on the topic more difficult to enforce in court.

On the surface, the idea of testing potential job applicants to determine suitability for a certain job seems reasonable, even advisable. By requiring applicants to take standardized exams, an employer could, theoretically, identify differences in aptitude, ability, and education between different prospective employees in a manner which is both time- and cost-effective. Alternatively, so-called “personality tests” may be able to gauge the mental fitness of a potential hire, predict how well he or she could deal with job stress, or determine how well he or she would fit in with the existing staff.

The issue, however, is not so simple. The problem with using a standardized method of evaluating job applicants is that such techniques often run afoul of federal and state equal opportunity laws.

Many statutes relating to workplace discrimination are primarily concerned with the

of a company policy more than its

. In other words, an employment test could be ruled discriminatory and illegal even if the employer had no such intent when designing the exam, and only wanted to measure the skills of prospective employees.

For example, while it would seem innocuous for an employer to institute intelligence tests as part of its standard interview procedures, such a practice may, in reality, constitute unlawful discrimination against certain cultural or ethnic groups who may have reduced access to educational opportunities.

Is employment testing illegal, then? Not exactly. In order to legally use examinations as part of its hiring criteria, an employer must be able to demonstrate two things:

– First, that the skills or attributes being tested (whether they be in mathematics or mental stability) are reasonably necessary to the performance of the job. It may be justified, for example, to argue that a candidate for a police officer should undergo personality testing to ensure that he or she can handle the stresses and authority of his or her position.

– Second, that the results of the test can be shown to correlate with actual job performance, i.e., that the test is actually an effective tool for improving the quality of employees.