Personality Testing and Public Safety.

I ran across this article in a legal website. There were disclaimers, of course.

Maybe this is one of the items that should be included in a pre-hire process for Public safety employees, police and fire. It could remove some of the nepotism claims bantered about. If we keep the results focused on trainability and retainability only, we should be fairly safe from lawsuits about discrimination.

As of 1993, some 83 percent of large city and county police forces used cognitive tests in hiring. (link)

Thus it is not an uncommon practice.

The Wonderlic Personnel Test is a twelve-minute, fifty-question test that can be taken on-line. It became prominent with it’s usage in the NFL draft process but is now widely used in industry.

 The Dangers of Personality Testing

A recent decision out of the federal district court in Connecticut garnered much attention both in the newspaper and television media last month.(link) Robert Jordan applied to the New London Police Department and was rejected for being too intelligent. During the application process, Jordan took an examination to test his cognitive ability and apparently performed too well. Upon his rejection, he filed a claim in federal court alleging that the police department violated his right to Equal Protection under the United States Constitution. The Court ruled in favor of the police department, a decision which to many seemed to fly in the face of common sense.

Depending on what article you read, up to 50% of employers in the United States are using personality and psychological tests to assist in the hiring selection process. How are these tests used and what legal land mines lurk just beneath a seemingly innocuous test? In the Connecticut case, the New London Police Department required all applicants to sit for the Wonderlic test, a cognitive examination. The test boasts objective criteria by which an employer could determine that an applicant is overqualified, will become dissatisfied and ultimately leave the position. It provides a table of recommended scores for various occupations. The recommended range for police officers is between 18 and 30. Jordan scored a 33. The police department admitted that his superior cognitive ability prevented him from obtaining the job. Under a constitutional analysis, the Court found that Jordan is not a member of a suspect class and that there is no fundamental right to employment as a police officer. Therefore, the city had to show only that their action was rationally related to some legitimate government purpose — that employing the exam could be beneficial to their stated goal of increasing employee longevity.

The legal obstacles to administering personality tests may not always be so easy to overcome as in the Connecticut case. An employer’s use of personality tests may implicate a number of legal issues. For example, the federal anti-discrimination statute, Title VII, specifically allows for use of personality testing, but it does so only so long as the test is professionally developed and not designed, intended or used to discriminate. The Supreme Court and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have interpreted this to mean that only job related tests may be used and they may not adversely impact any minority or other protected group. Therefore, employers who make use of these tests should monitor the ultimate selection outcome to ensure that no one group’s success is affected disproportionately to another.

Personality tests may run afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well. Medical inquiries may only be made upon receipt of a conditional offer. The EEOC has stated in its guidelines that a psychological examination is a medical examination for purposes of the ADA if it provides evidence that would lead to the discovery of a mental impairment or disorder. The ADA may also be implicated where an applicant is not selected for a position because of a test and alleges that the employer discriminated on the basis of a perceived disability. Employers should take care to review the tests for content to ensure that all the questions posed are job related and do not gather information that could inadvertently expose the company to liability.

Finally, personality tests may violate an individual’s right to privacy. Personality tests which delve into sexual practices and religious beliefs have been deemed too intrusive and violative of both state constitutional and anti-discrimination laws. A test which seeks to obtain information which constitutes an unreasonable, substantial or serious interference with the employee’s privacy, might contravene public policy and warrant the imposition of liability on the employer.

Massachusetts has not forbidden the gathering of information about an employee’s character entirely, but the Legislature has imposed restrictions on employers seeking certain information from an employee or prospective employee, such as polygraph testing for honesty. Personality tests which test for the veracity of the applicant may constitute a violation of the Massachusetts “lie detector” statute which defines “lie detector test” to include a written examination which is used to render a diagnostic opinion regarding the honesty of an individual. Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 149, §19B . Conceivably, an examination which tests for other legitimate personality types could impose liability on an employer if one of its purposes is to verify the truthfulness of an employee or applicant.

When giving personality tests employers should do the following to minimize potential risk:

Ask why they are using a personality test and what information they are hoping to gather from it. Is this information related to a specific attribute or skill required for the job?

Only utilize tests that can be shown to be job-related and whose validity has been verified by credible data.

Never base a hiring decision solely on a personality test result.

Obtain an applicant’s written consent prior to giving the examination.

Administer tests consistently across the board.

Maintain confidential test results and monitor the impact on protected groups.

Consult labor counsel when using tests in hiring process.

Remember to read the disclaimers above. This is offered as a discussion point to improve our hiring processes.

admin posted at 2010-1-5 Category: Police

One Response Leave a comment

  1. #1Adjustable Dumbbells @ 2011-1-28 12:18

    *:- I am really thankful to this topic because it really gives useful information “`,

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