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Can Employers Legally Test A Job Candidates’ Physical Fitness Levels?

By Expert Author: Chris Phelps

Anti-discrimination laws prevent deep probes into prospective employee health data. But for positions with physical requirements, some testing is permissible.

The nation’s significant obesity problem – two-thirds of American adults are overweight, many at younger ages – create some degree of hiring challenges for employers’ background checks and pre-employment screening. This particularly affects workplaces where some degree of physical fitness is required to perform job duties, which ranges from retail and hospitality industries to warehousing, manufacturing, healthcare, public safety and security services, among many others.

But there are many legal restrictions on learning how healthy, mentally as well as physically, a job candidate is prior to employing them. Rules established by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are key drivers in these hiring scenarios.

But employers performing pre-employment screening can legally seek some information about job candidates that pertain to their fitness. These rules allow for physical tests under certain conditions:

Physical tests should resemble job conditions – Some safety-critical jobs, such as firefighters, absolutely require that the employee meet a minimum level of fitness. The key points are that the test be job related (Can you carry 100-pound hoses? Can you climb a ladder? Etc.) and that it be consistent with actual tasks in the job. In a similar vein, personality tests can be administered to determine if the individual is mentally fit for some of the psychological challenges of a position.

Tests cannot probe medical conditions – It is OK to identify if the job candidate can perform a task, but it is not acceptable for the prospective employer to probe into possible underlying health questions. For example, taking heart rate and blood pressure readings at the conclusion of a physical test would be unacceptable.

Tests cannot discriminate against an entire class – If all or most female applicants fail a physical test, for example, the employer needs to be absolutely certain the test fairly represents the true physical challenges of the job.

As with all hiring and management practices, any fitness test must be administered equally to all applicants within job categories. Selective application of tests would be a clear violation of employment discrimination laws.

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