A Legal Tightrope

Recently the fairness of workplace personality assessments has been called into question, with critics claiming some tests are discriminatory and prevent qualified applicants from finding work.

So how can talent managers tell if what they’re using is legal?

The American Psychological Association and the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology may have an answer. The two organizations have a set of published standards to ensure that a behavioral assessment is fair, valid and legal.

Moreover, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also issues a set of guidelines for giving behavioral assessments. According to its guidance, assessments can be given if they were constructed specifically for work purposes, but should be held backunless a conditional offer has been made to the candidate and it has been determined that, barring a disability, the individual is capable of performing the job.

The test itself must also be vetted to ensure that it doesn’t qualify as a medical exam. It can’t be given to potential candidates if the test was created by a clinical psychologist or someone with medical training, if its main purpose is to diagnose psychological disorders or if it’s typically given in medical settings.

Deniz Ones, a professor of industrial psychology at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, said scrutiny of a single question, which critics of such tests tend to point to, doesn’t determine if a test meets these criteria.

“It is really easy to take single questions from questionnaires that have 400 questions and say, ‘Wouldn’t this question be discriminatory,’ ” Ones said. “The problem is that nobody ever, including the psychologist that created the test,looks at how anybody responds to a single question. A single question is meaningless.”

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.