How can we use psychometric, psychological testing and mitigate risks? (Toughest HR Questions)
By Yaseen Hemeda and Joan Sum
What are the legal restrictions associated with screening candidates through the use of psychometric and psychological testing and how can employers mitigate risks?
Answer: Employers are legally allowed to pre-screen applicants and narrow the
candidate pool by using psychometric and psychological testing. There are many
different types of tests employers can give, such as medical and physical abilities tests.
However, for the purposes of this question, we will focus on psychometric and
There are many legal ramifications that come with asking applicants to take a test. It’s
important for employers to understand how to make tests legally compliant and mitigate
risks associated with the use of these types of tests.
Here are a few things employers should keep in mind:
Prohibited grounds of discrimination: The tests must comply with applicable Canadian
human rights legislation. Employers should not discriminate on the basis of a prohibited
ground such as race, ethnic origin, sex, creed or disability.
Bona fide occupational requirements: If employers are going to discriminate on the
basis of a prohibited ground, they must be able to prove it was based on a bona fide
occupational requirement for the job.
Employers should ensure the purpose of the test is rationally connected to the actual job
requirements. They must also be able to show testing was used in good faith and it was
necessary to test candidates to achieve a work-related purpose.
Systemic discrimination: Systemic discrimination denies members of certain groups
opportunities because of established practice and procedure in a company. For example,
tests that use English or French idioms may negatively bias those for whom English or
French is not their first language. Caution must be exercised in using tests to ensure they
accommodate those from different cultures, women and persons with disabilities to the
point of undue hardship.
The recent decision in
DM v. Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is a good example of
when employers are required to consider accommodating a job candidate during the
testing process. In this case, the complainant argued he was discriminated against because
of his disability by being required to attend a literacy and numeracy screening test. The
complainant advised TDSB that, because of his learning disability and the fact he had
attention deficit disorder, he would need a calculator and a separate room to write the
The TDSB refused his request and the matter appeared before the Ontario Human Rights
Tribunal. The board determined the TDSB had discriminated against the complainant and
contravened the province’s Human Rights Code by not providing the necessary
Consent: Employers should obtain written consent from applicants before conducting any pre-employment testing.
Standardize process: The selection process must treat all applicants for a given position
in the same manner. The recruiter should ask the same questions, in the same manner and
under similar conditions. Any assessments should be administered at the same point in
the selection process. Having a formal policy on testing and interviewing procedures will
help ensure the standardization of the testing process.
Professional testing service providers: Employers are encouraged to use the expertise
of professional testing services. Although an organization
can create and administer its own tests, there are many advantages to using a professional testing service provider. Generally, testing providers are in the best position to determine what questions and types of tests meet the employer’s needs. They will also be familiar with the legal aspects of asking certain types of questions.
Before approaching a testing provider, employers should know what information they want from the test and ensure it is related to the position being filled. Employers also need to educate themselves about testing. They should ask the testing provider for information about how the test was developed and investigate its reliability and validity — employers need to be informed test purchasers.
Privacy and confidentiality: Employers need to consider: how the test is administered;
who will access the results; who will interpret the results and if they are qualified to do
so; when and how feedback will be provided to the candidate; how the test results will be
used; what procedures are in place to protect the confidentiality of the results; and how
the completed test will be stored.
These considerations should be incorporated into the organization’s employment policies
Conditional offer of employment: Some government sources recommend employers
administer tests such as psychometric and psychological tests only after a conditional
offer of employment is extended and accepted. But this could reduce the efficacy of such
tests as screening tools if only those candidates selected for conditional offers are tested.
At that point, it may also become necessary to reject a candidate solely based on testing
results — something that is difficult to justify given test scores should be looked at
holistically, along with all of the other factors, in determining suitability for a job.
Above all, employers should be aware there are several legal pitfalls in asking candidates
to undergo pre-employment testing, and the jury is still out on whether or not they
accurately predict future performance.
Yaseen Hemeda and Joan Sum are HR product writers for Consult Carswell, an online HR work solution that delivers best practices, legal compliance, news, articles and a suite or ready-to-use tools.