What You Need to Know About Pre-Employment Testing

Michelle Hopkins

Strong, capable workforces are essential to business productivity. Filling job vacancies with candidates well-matched to job functions is particularly important now, as business media warns the COVID-19 pandemic may lead to an economic hangover that could last for years.1 Even before the pandemic, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data made it clear in 2019 that some industries have particular difficulty filling positions. Job vacancy duration was more than 30 days in manufacturing and more than 40 days in government, financial services, and health services, on average.2 Health care is noted as having the lowest job-filling rate even when it shouldn’t because its labor pool is relatively strong. This happens, one economist says, because there is a high degree of mismatch between the experiences of job seekers and the job openings.3

For a strong match between candidates and essential job functions, especially in highly physical industries like manufacturing, transportation, construction, and materials handling, Concentra provides post-offer, pre-employment testing that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As will be discussed in this article, Concentra® goes to extensive efforts to research, develop and validate post-offer, pre-employment tests before you, the employer, give the final go-ahead. Not everyone does this. There are pre-employment tests provided by others that have been unable to withstand new legal challenges.

Legal challenges to pre-employment tests cost millions of dollars

A large retailer agreed in August 2020 to pay $20 million and to cease using a physical abilities test that was alleged to exclude women disproportionately to men. The retailer denied the allegations.4 Similar legal challenges have been made, and frequently won, in trucking, railroads, public safety, and other industries.5,6,7,8 The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) holds companies responsible for the validity of pre-employment tests, even if they are conducted by an independent firm.

In addition to legal challenges to the validity of tests, there are three other major trends happening now that involve pre-employment screening, according to the Society for Human Resource Management9:

  • An increase in class action lawsuits due to technical errors in pre-employment forms and process
  • A growing patchwork of state and local laws imposing different restrictions on what an employer can ask about a job candidate’s background, salary history and marijuana use
  • A concern that some uses of advanced screen technology tools, including artificial intelligence and algorithm-based hiring platforms, may be vulnerable to absorbing and replicating systemic biases ingrained in their design environment

Employers with operations in multiple jurisdictions may feel overwhelmed by the patchwork of state and local laws. Concentra’s regulatory expertise should come as welcome relief. As a leader in occupational health, Concentra is dedicated to compliance and is immersed in staying current on state, local, and federal laws.

Use, development, and validation of Concentra’s post-offer, pre-employment testing

Concentra provides pre-employment testing only after an employer authorizes the service after extending a conditional offer of employment, with hiring contingent on the successful completion of the test.

Concentra uses a human performance evaluation (HPE) to help determine if the physical capacity of the job seeker meets the essential physical demands of the job. HPE tests can range from short lift tests to longer duration tests that involve cardiovascular fitness, strength, and position tolerance. For example, for a job involving a lot of material handling, the candidate would be tested on activities such as lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling. For a job that requires an awkward posture or remaining in one position for prolonged periods, the candidate might be tested on sitting, standing, kneeling, or their ability to access confined spaces.

In addition to the functional testing, Concentra’s HPEs also include an informed consent, health questionnaire, and vital signs review pre- and post-test.

Developing and validating the test

A Concentra physical therapist creates the test by completing an onsite Functional Job Analysis (FJA) to observe and objectively measure the essential job functions (EJFs) for a specific position. One or more supervisors will be asked to review the EJFs for accuracy and to ensure all essential job functions have been captured. After there is agreement on all EJFs, the therapist designs the post-offer, pre-employment test.

A group of employees or supervisors knowledgeable about the job and its functions will review the test to ensure it accurately measures all physical demands of the job. In addition, the employer’s designated representatives will review the test to ensure it meets with the employer’s expectations. If there is any feedback from these reviews, the test components will be modified appropriately.

Concentra validates its post-offer, pre-employment test through a trial period that monitors pass-fail rates. If the failure rate is lower than expected, the test is re-evaluated to ensure all essential functions of the job were captured. If the failure rate is higher than expected, the test is re-evaluated to assess if it is too physically demanding.

Ensuring safety during the testing process

Concentra is rigorous in ensuring the safety of individuals during pre-employment testing. Each test is explained and demonstrated in advance. Candidates are told they are not expected to perform any task they deem unsafe. If a candidate performs any task in an unsafe manner, he or she will be shown the safe way to perform it. If unsafe execution of the task continues, the test will be stopped.

Research supports post-offer, pre-placement physical capacity testing

There are numerous research studies that support the type of post-offer, pre-employment testing Concentra performs but one that dramatically conveys test benefits was reported in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. It dealt with low-back injuries and compared the injury rates of employees who demonstrated their physical capacity in a functional capacity evaluation (FCE) test with those who didn’t. The group that had the post-offer, pre-employment evaluation experienced on-the-job low-back injuries at a rate of three percent, compared to a 33-percent low-back injury rate for employees that performed the job without the benefit of the evaluation.10

Pre-employment testing must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act

Employers who partner with Concentra – and that’s a majority of Fortune business leaders – can rest assured the testing their job candidates receive will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as other laws. But, if you decide instead to go it alone, it’s wise to retain legal counsel to review whatever testing you choose to use. A few of the vital considerations of either post-offer, pre-employment testing or physical exams given after a contingent offer of employment are summarized by the Society for Human Resource Management11:

  • All candidates for a job must have the same test/physical exam
  • A candidate’s medical history must be treated confidentially
  • Exam results cannot be used to discriminate against persons covered by the ADA
  • The clinician must have a clear understanding of job functions and duties and only job-related physical attributes can be considered
  • Contingent offers can be withdrawn only for the reasons shown below:
    • Job-related, based on the test or physical exam
    • Consistent with business necessity
    • Necessary to avoid a threat to health or safety
    • Employer cannot provide reasonable accommodation without undue hardship

Next steps

Contact Concentra to learn more about our post-offer, pre-employment testing services.

The information contained in this article reflects standard employment testing Concentra performs.  There may be additional requirements or tests for other professions or employers that are not described in this article.

1 “American companies spent years in an economic boom. Then the coronavirus hit,” CNBC, May 10, 2020.    
2 What is the average time to hire by industry? Workable.
3 State of the Labor Market: The Industries Having a Hard Time Filling Openings, by Nick Bunker, economic research director for North America. Indeed Hiring Lab. July 8, 2019.   
4 “Walmart will pay $20M to settle claim that physical ability test screened out women,” HRDive. August 10, 2020.  
5 “EEOC Cracks Down on Pre-Employment Physical Testing,” by David Sparkman. EHS Today. July 20, 2018.   
6 “Hirschbach to pay $40,000 to settle EEOC lawsuit over pre-employment physical abilities test,” by Matt Cole. CCJ News. September 4, 2019.
7 CSX Transportation to Pay $3.2 Million to Settle EEOC Disparate Impact Sex Discrimination Case, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission news release. June 13, 2018.   
8 “Class Action Lawsuit Alleges Citrus County (FL) Sheriff’s Physical Abilities Test Is Discriminatory Toward Women,” by Corradao Rizzi. ClassAction.org. October 9, 2018.
9 “3 Employment Screening Trends to Know Before You Hire in 2020,” Society for Human Resource Management. February 14, 2020.   
10 Harbin G, Olson J. Post-offer, pre-placement testing in industry. American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 2005; 47(4):296-307. .
11 Testing: Physicals: What are the compliance issues involved in conducting pre-employment physical examinations? July 30, 2018.