Is it legal for employers to conduct pre-employment tests and background checks on job applicants? The short answer is yes. Companies can test applicants for employment. The longer answer is that the tests must be non-discriminatory and the tests must be properly administered and validated.
If you're being considered for a job and have been asked to take some kind of test, you may be wondering what the test is for, how it will influence your chances of being hired, and perhaps whether it's even legal. Here, to help put such requirements into perspective is a brief overview of pre-employment testing.
Legality and Function of Pre-Employment Testing
Employers often use tests and other selection procedures to screen applicants for hire. Some of these tests are closely focused on job-related skills and abilities, but others collect personal information for various purposes and are somewhat controversial.
While legitimate concerns exist, pre-employment tests are legal, provided the company does not use the test results to discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, religion, disability, or age (that is, to exclude applicants only because they are 40 years of age or older).
Employment tests must be valid and must relate to the job for which you're applying.
A major exception is lie detector tests, which are illegal in most circumstances, both before and during employment, thanks to the Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA).
The type of testing discussed here is distinct from the testing required to earn professional certifications and licenses. The difference is that certifications and licenses are required by law or by industry standards, and are not part of the hiring process for individual employers.
Types of Employment Tests
Employment tests may look at who job candidates are, what they can do, or whether they can safely perform the physical tasks of the job. Ideally, these tests serve as tools for the hiring manager, and a way to avoid bias in hiring.
- Personality Tests
Personality tests assess the degree to which a person has certain traits or dispositions or predict the likelihood that a person will engage in certain conduct. Ideally, the objective is to determine if a candidate will be a good fit for the job and the company. Personality tests are usually written in such a way as to reveal any attempt at dishonesty. The goal of employment personality testing is to hire people who fit the profile of the ideal employee the organization is seeking.
- Talent Assessment Tests
Talent assessments are are utilized to help predict a new hire’s job performance and retainability. The focus is on potential skills and abilities, as distinct from either personality or developed skills revealed by an applicant’s work history. These types of tests help answer questions about whether the applicant will be successful if he or she is hired.
- Cognitive Tests
Cognitive tests are used to measure a candidate's reasoning, memory, perceptual speed and accuracy, and skills in arithmetic and reading comprehension, as well as knowledge of a particular function or job. Cognitive function is roughly what most people mean by “intelligence,” although true intelligence has many other aspects as well.
- Emotional Intelligence Testing
Emotional intelligence (EI) is an individual’s ability to understand his or her own emotions and the emotions of others. Strong emotional intelligence is important for most jobs and critical for some, since emotionally intelligent people have the ability to work well with colleagues, interact with the public, and handle disappointments and frustrations in a mature and professional way.
- Pre-Employment Physical Exams
Employers may require a pre-employment physical examination to determine the suitability of an individual for a physically demanding or potentially dangerous job. Pre-employment physicals are used to determine whether an applicant has the physical ability and stamina required to do the job.
- Physical Ability Tests
- Physical ability tests measure the physical ability of an applicant to perform a particular task or the strength of specific muscle groups, as well as strength and stamina in general.
- Drug Tests
There are several types of drug tests that candidates for employment may be asked to take. The types of drug tests which show the presence of drugs or alcohol include urine drug tests, hair-drug or -alcohol testing, saliva drug screen, and sweat drug screen. It is important to note that while most alcohol tests determine whether the subject is currently intoxicated, nothing equivalent exists for any drugs. Drug tests determine whether the subject has used certain chemicals any time in recent weeks or months.
- English Proficiency Tests
English proficiency tests determine the candidate's English fluency and are typically administered to candidates whose first language is not English.
- Sample Job Task Tests
Sample job task tests including performance tests, simulations, work samples, and realistic job previews, assess a candidate's performance and aptitude on particular tasks. Think of these as something like an audition.
- Tests for Restaurant Jobs
Restaurants may test job applicants as part of the screening process to determine how much they know about the business, and how well they would be able to handle the job.
Background Checks and Credit Checks
Criminal background checks provide information on arrest and conviction history. Credit checks provide information on credit and financial history. Here's why, when and how employers check out job applicants.
The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law.