The history of HR is rife with decisions based on whether a question, or a skill or a test is “job related.” Case after case has shown that having a job requirement that is not actually job related may have an adverse impact on protected classes and thus would not be considered legal.
Strength requirements have often fallen into this category. At one point in our history only men were allowed to be firefighters because it was assumed that only men would have the strength to perform the job. When women started to apply for the jobs the courts indicated that they could not off-handedly be rejected on the basis of their sex. There had to be some job-related test of strength and agility that all candidates had the opportunity to pass or fail. Once instituted women then had the opportunity to take on roles that had artificially been reserved for men. Most women still could not pass the test, so the selection numbers of women were still low, but that practice was ok because it involved a genuine job related requirement. But what if the requirement was not genuinely job related?
Trucking company makes a mistake
Despite the 50 year old history of the concept of job relatedness companies in modern times still may have job requirements that screen out protected classes without meeting the standard of being job related. The EEOC has just announced that they have reached an agreement with a trucking company that was using a strength requirement to screen truck drivers. Unfortunately for them this brought claims of both sex and age discrimination from applicants who contended that the requirements where not genuinely job related. This was shown to be the case when the company was acquired by another trucking company that did not use the same requirement.
In the company’s defense they were not the actual administrators of the test, they had used a third party testing center which they had ceased to use prior to the lawsuit being filed. They, however, still bore the responsibility for the results of the test. As a result they have settled with the EEOC and have agreed to terms with the EEOC to change procedures and more actively work on eliminating barriers.
The lessons that should be learned from this case go beyond just strength tests. The broader lesson should be that any requirement an employer has for a job should be job related. If you want to administer a math test for a job you had better be able to show that math is a job related requirement of that particular job. You want to administer an agility test, you had better be prepared to prove that agility is an essential function of that job. If you want to ask that interview question of “What tree would you like to be?” then you had better be able to show how that question and answer are related to the job for which you are interviewing. You want to run a credit check on someone you had better be prepared to show how an individual’s credit standing is relevant to the job they are performing.
Questions and requirements CANNOT be based on your whims and idiosyncrasies. They must be based on verified job related requirements. If they are not you must be prepared to pay the piper.
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