In 2007, hearing- and speech-impaired Vicky Sandy applied for a job as a cashier, bagger and stocker at a Kroger supermarket in West Virginia. She was required to take a 50-question ‘personality test’ as part of the application process.
The test, called a “Customer Service Assessment” reportedly evaluates characteristics that could significantly impact a person’s job performance.
Sandy scored only a 40-percent, which meant that she was less likely than the higher scoring candidates to “listen carefully, understand and remember.” When she was not hired, she filed a complaint with the EEOC, saying that she had been discriminated against. The company refuted the allegations saying that her low assessment score had cost her the job.
The claim is still under scrutiny by the EEOC but it has raised issues about the personality tests, which are being used more frequently in screening applicants.
Michele St. Laurent, a recruiting practice manager at Insight Performance, a human resource consultancy in Dedham, Mass., said, “If you use these tests with all the other components—a good resume, a very solid interview process with behavioral-type interview questions, the way the candidate presents him or herself, and a personality test—you should have a full picture of the person through all of these lenses.” He said that should be enough to know what the applicant will be like over a long period of time.
However, the assessment also has the potential of being used to prejudicially keep out employees, on the basis of their race or gender.
Daniel Schwartz, an employment lawyer at Pullman and Comley, in Hartford, Conn. said what the employers should be asking themselves is “Are you using a test to screen out applicants, or to provide insights on people who you are interested in?” he asked.
The tests would be considered discriminatory if for example the employer gave them only to say Hispanics and not to the others. It would again be subject to scrutiny if it reveals that all the applicants were asked to give the exams, but only the African-Americans were screened out.
Moreover, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers cannot subject potential employees to a personality test that involves a medical examination of an individual’s physical or mental impairments or health. He can, however, do that after a job offer has been made. Doing it before, would make it discriminatory.
Annie Murphy Paul, author of the Cult of Personality said that she does not believe anything useful comes out of these tests. She said, these tests are actually not very reliable in terms of their results, they’re not a good way to evaluate prospective employees.”
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program which strictly mandates discrimination in employment at the workplace said that the test’s focus on math and observation skills had no relevance to the entry-level jobs that were available.
What employers can learn from the spate of legal claims that the tests have brought in their wake, is that they should stop relying on it. Francine W. Breckenridge, a labor and employment partner at Strasburger Attorneys at Law, in Austin, Texas said “If you are going to use it as a factor in employment consideration, you need to make sure the tests results are not disproportionately impacting a protected class.”