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Is Pre-Employment Testing Illegal?

By Deb McClanahan, BroadBandHR Consulting

A client recently remarked that they would like to test for certain skills but couldn't because it is illegal. My experience as an HR Consultant says this is not correct, but this easy "no testing" answer may not be the best for employers of various sizes. Isn't the cost of hiring a person whose skills don't match your need a huge cost to your small business? Isn't the time wasted within your organization in identifying these skill deficits and performance issues a loss you don't need even if you're a mid-sized business? Don't you need a solid selection process that delivers well-qualified and effective employees if you are a large, multi-location employer?

Pre-employment skills testing can be legal if it:

  • Is directly relevant to the job you are hiring for
  • Is used as a standard criteria for hiring for that job
  • Is equally administered to all candidates (or finalists) for the same job
  • Can be validated against performance on the job

What does this all mean to your business? You can test if you do it right, with a consistent process. For computer skills, as an example, it may be easier to use an outside testing agency rather than create your own Excel or QuickBooks tests. There are various agencies that will provide standardized online testing for specialties like Network Administrator, Administrative Assistant, and many others. For testing the skill level of the candidate, you may also find that detailed behavioral interviewing questions can give you a strong indication of the candidate's skills and the differences between candidates.

Another approach is to use a "work sample" testing approach. In a work sample, you create a "real life" problem that the individual would face in the role. You might use this approach for testing Powerpoint presentation skills by giving the individual some data and 30 minutes and a computer to craft a 5 slide presentation. For an administrative assistant, you might ask the candidate to edit and animate a Powerpoint presentation with some errors in it. Again, the same criteria of consistent use and relevance to the actual job responsibilities apply.

For specific questions and program design, BroadBand HR Consulting can help you design a pre-employment testing program that will both meet your needs and stand up to any legal challenges.


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