What You Need to Know About Pre-Employment Testing

By Haley Bass | 09/11/2017

The hiring process can be filled with a lot of unknowns. While a candidate may list all their skills and qualifications, you don’t know how they’ll perform until they start the job. This can be a dangerous risk, especially in physically demanding jobs where an unqualified employee can be seriously injured.

Pre-employment functional testing is designed to provide employers with a way to ensure that potential new hires can tolerate the physical requirements of the job. Tests can range from short ‘lift tests’ to longer evaluations that involve cardiovascular fitness, strength, and stress position tolerance (bending over to pick up boxes, ability to stand up for a lengthy amount of time, etc.).

Pre-employment testing is becoming common in companies that want to ensure that their applicants can perform the physical demands of the job, while maintaining compliance with ADA guidelines.

An employer may make a job offer conditional upon the new hire passing the pre-employment functional test. If the test is directly related to the functional tasks of the job, and a prospective employee fails one or more parts of the test, the employer has the legal right to rescind the offer.

Types of Tests

Depending on the needs of the employer, a variety of options exist for pre-employment tests. There are three prominent types of functional testing: isokinetic testing, dynamic lift testing, and aerobic testing.

Isokinetic testing describes a method of exercise that provides variable resistance to certain movements, often utilizing costly special equipment. Generally, physicians will test a person’s isokinetic strength and then compare it to a measured norm. Isokinetic testing does not typically use the tools and equipment from the job.

Dynamic lift testing tests the capability/output of certain muscle groups against internal and external forces. This usually involves lifting actual parts of equipment from the job, or performing a simulation using weights, lift boxes, or carts and sleds. The more a simulation represents the physical requirements of a job, the more defensible the test is.

Aerobic testing examines the max amount of aerobic physiological work that an individual can do by using treadmills, arm bikes, bicycles, or step platforms to measure oxygen consumption. The oxygen max is then compared to the measured physiological requirements of the job to ensure that the worker can meet the job’s aerobic demands.

Determining What Test to Use

A legally defensible pre-employment testing program should follow specific steps. To validate that the test is appropriate and accurate for the job, employers should:

  1. Use an onsite evaluation by a therapist to determine the physical essential job functions (EJFs) with knowledgeable employees and/or supervisors.
  2. Conduct a thorough review of the rough draft of the EJFs by certifying that the data collected is accurate.
  3. Have the knowledgeable employees and/or supervisors go through the test to determine if it measures the physical demands of the job.
  4. Get feedback from the tested employees and/or supervisors and make modifications as needed.

ADA and EEOC Regulations

Pre-employment tests are highly beneficial to workers and employers; they have been shown to decrease injuries and lost work days. But, there are specific guidelines for their use. Both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) limit what can and cannot be expected of a potential worker during a test.

Title I of the ADA addresses employment provisions and expressly prohibits the discrimination of “otherwise qualified individuals” due to a disability in all areas of employment. However, as a qualification standard, it permits employers to ensure that a prospective hire not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals in the workplace. 

The ADA defines “direct threat” as a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by reasonable accommodation. The EEOC regulations extend that definition to include situations where there is a significant risk to the individual as well as others.

Determining whether an individual poses a “direct threat” requires an assessment of the individual’s ability to safely perform the essential functions of the job. This assessment, according to the EEOC, shall be based on a reasonable medical judgment that relies on the most current medical knowledge and/or the best available objective evidence. Following the ADA guidelines and having an external vendor determine the essential functions of a job will ensure a legally defensible test.

Effectiveness of Pre-Employment Tests

Studies show that the investment of administering pre-employment functional testing far outweighs the workers’ compensation costs for injury care. Cost reductions were noted most often in the reduction of the severity of injuries, which is directly related to a reduction in medical expenses and lost work days. Pre-employment testing programs are most effective for heavy demand level jobs.

Several studies have examined the benefits of pre-employment testing. One study revealed a cost savings of $18 per dollar spent on screening. Another company saw an ROI of $4,541,059.

To learn more about how pre-placement functional testing can benefit your business, contact one of our workforce health experts.