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The Pitfalls of POET and How to Avoid Them

The Pitfalls of POET and How to Avoid Them

Updated June 9, 2021 Originally published April 20, 2016
Danny Sanchez, PT, CEAS

OSP_-_The_Pitfalls_of_POET_and_How_to_Avoid_Them.jpgPost offer employment testing (POET) improves hiring quality for companies in many industries. But you cannot use just any test. And you cannot pick and choose who takes your test. Equal Opportunity laws dictate these things. You don’t want to run afoul of the law. In this article we look at the potential pitfalls of POET. We’ll also explain how you can avoid these potential problems.

POET Is an Excellent Investment

Post offer employment testing is a hiring tool. It helps reduce on-the-job injuries and workers’ comp claims. It ensures chosen candidates can handle the essential physical demands of the job. And that they can perform the tasks in a safe manner. Successful POET completion protects them, their fellow workers and your company. And that makes POET a smart hiring and management strategy.

Lisa Quast (@careerwomaninc) says companies can reap dramatic benefits from post offer employment testing. A well-designed POET program gives you unbiased baseline information about each employee. Because the data is measurable and the test can be reproduced, it is difficult to dispute the results. That makes the data valuable for:

  • Creating job descriptions that accurately describe physical requirements
  • Ensuring you have chosen the right candidate for the position
  • Discovering if your new hire has a pre-existing condition
  • Determining if -- and when -- an injured worker is ready to return to work
  • Identifying reasonable accommodation opportunities

Quast cautions you must pay close attention to compliance requirements. Otherwise, you could lose all these benefits to lawsuits. That can damage your company’s reputation as well as your bottom line.

So What Can Go Wrong?

The EEOC website offers a guide to Employment Tests and Selection Procedures. It lists nine different types of hiring-related tests employers may use. One category is physical ability tests such as POET. These measure “ability to perform a particular task or the strength of specific muscle groups, as well as strength and stamina in general.” You must give the same test to every candidate who receives an offer for a particular job.

The guide also outlines the laws governing which tests you can use and when. It is against the law to use post offer employment testing to discriminate against job applicants based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Sex
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Age (40+)

Tests are also illegal if they tend to exclude any of these protected groups. There are instances in which exclusion is legitimate. But you must be able to legally justify that test.

Consider This Cautionary Tale

A few years ago, the EEOC sued a company whose POET test excluded far more women than men for a particular job. The exclusion was based on results of a strength test. Before the company began using the test, 46% of their new hires were women. After implementing the test, that number dropped to 15%. The company claimed their test “looked like the job.” They also claimed that testing had reduced injuries.

The EEOC investigated and learned the test was not “like the job.” It was much more difficult. Further, the company’s injury rate started to drop two years before they began using the new test. EEOC officials suggested better training and job rotation were the real reasons for reduced injuries. They found the company to be in violation of Title VII.

You can find complete details about employment-related discrimination issues on the EEOC website.

Best Practices to Avoid Pitfalls

Quast cites three key issues you should understand before you implement POET: 

  • The test must accurately measure relevant skills, using scientifically validated testing methods. You must match components to the specific job and working environment. And results must predict the candidate’s success doing the job you have offered. Good scores should predict good job performance. Poor scores should predict inability to perform well. As an employer, you are responsible for ensuring validity. You can do that by consulting the Uniform Guidelines on Employment Selection Procedures.
  • The test must consistently produce very similar results. Quast says it’s a red flag if a given individual takes the test several times and receives widely varying scores. If the test isn’t consistent, it is not reliable. It has no value as a predictor.
  • Your test must meet all federal, state and local Equal Employment Opportunity guidelines. These laws exist to prevent discriminatory practices in hiring. You may conduct tests only after you have made a conditional offer of employment. This gives every potential new hire the same chance to show they can do the essential work required, with or without accommodation. You cannot simply assume certain applicants are not able to do the job.

Knowing the rules about POET allows you to be proactive in addressing potential problems.

  • What if one of your tests is screening out too many applicants in a protected group? Ask yourself if workers could perform that task in another way to produce the desired result. Reasonable accommodations can make your company more inclusive. You may also be able to modify the job itself to make it more accessible.
  • Periodically review all POET components. Have the job’s essential functions or tasks changed? If so, it’s time to update your test to reflect those changes.
  • Train managers and supervisors on the “why” behind POET legalities. You don’t want someone to inadvertently violate the law through ignorance.
  • Allow only those who are professionally qualified to administer your tests.

Quast says if you administer your POET program correctly, you can achieve:

  • A more effective hiring process
  • Cost savings
  • Lower turnover
  • Higher productivity
  • Higher employee morale

You can gain all that and reduce your legal risk “by ensuring test validity and reliability, by making sure tests do not cause disparate impact on minorities or protected groups, and by consistently applying tests to all candidates."

CriteriaCorp takes it a step further. They say POET “can actually augment legal defensibility by enhancing the objectivity of a company’s employee selection procedures.” That’s because federal regulations protect applicants from discriminatory hiring practices. “Organizations that implement testing programs in accordance with legal guidelines are therefore better prepared to defend these procedures in the unlikely event that a legal challenge to their hiring practices should ever arise.” 

Understanding the pitfalls of POET allows you to avoid them. You can be confident your post offer employment testing program complies with all applicable laws. You can look forward to making better-informed hiring decisions. And that will bring all the cost and productivity benefits that come with a safer workplace.Post Offer Employment Testing

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