Pop quiz:

When administering a test to a job applicant, he says he has autism and needs to have the questions read to him. Do you:

  1. Have someone read the questions to him.
  2. Tell him to do his best and have him take the test.
  3. Tell him the interview is over because you need someone who can pass this test.
  4. Say, “let’s talk about the best way to accommodate you.”

If you have 15 or more employees, then you want to pick either A or D, but preferably D. Why? Because even job candidates are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and you need to engage in an interactive process to determine if you can make a reasonable accommodation. Staffing agency Adecco found out the hard way when they required an autistic candidate to take the test, which he flunked, and then had him re-take it with someone reading it, but declared him ineligible as it had taken too long. They just settled with the EEOC for $49,500.

But before you do away with your pre-employment testing for fear of inadvertently discriminating against someone with certain needs, know this: pre-employment testing can save you a lot of headaches. It’s easier to determine if someone knows what they are doing by testing those skills rather than asking general interview questions that provide only anecdotal, rather than concrete, insight into how someone would perform a job. 

But, to ensure that the test is fair and accommodating to all candidates, you need to keep a few things in mind.

Is the Test Valid and Reliable?

In the context of pre-employment testing, valid means that the test predicts what you want it to predict, and reliable means it is consistent. You need to make sure your tests work as you want them to. It’s best to purchase tests that have been validated rather than designing your own, such as the Wiesen Test of Mechanical Aptitude. You don’t want to end up with an invalid and unreliable test.

A good valid test accurately measures key aspects of candidates’ knowledge, skills, and abilities. If a candidate asks, you should be instantly able to explain how this applies to the job. If you can’t, it’s probably not a good test.

ADA Applies

If a candidate needs an accommodation for a test, you’ll need to provide it, as long as it’s reasonable. You don’t have to offer the first accommodation suggested by the candidate, but you do need to go through a discussion to determine an accommodation. 

Title VII Applies

If your test discriminates based on sex or race or other protected class, then it’s an illegal and inappropriate test. You need to be careful that there isn’t any disparate impact—that is, that even though the test appears neutral, a specific population fares worse. This isn’t to say that every population needs the same outcome—if the job requires a lot of heavy lifting, on average, men may score higher than women. That’s fine, as long as the test is valid and reliable.

Pre-employment testing can save you time and money in the long run, as long as you do it right.


ABOUT Suzanne Lucas

Avatar photoSuzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. She now writes about Human Resources and Business for a number of different publications.