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Personality tests: Yours may now be illegal

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in Human Resources

If your job-screening process includes personality testing, review that test now to see if it includes any questions that could be considered "medical inquiries" revealing a person's mental disability. And check with your test's vendor to see if it plans to alter the test in response to an important new court ruling. That's especially true if you use the granddaddy of personality tests, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) test.

The ADA prohibits you from using any medical tests that screen out, or tend to screen out, people with disabilities. The EEOC says personality tests that are designed to identify a person's mental disorder are "medical exams," and therefore violate the ADA. Now, a federal court has said the MMPI test fits into that category. (Tests that simply measure personality traits like honesty and work ethic don't constitute "medical exams.")

The good news: Certain personality tests can keep you on firmer legal ground. Those include the Hogan Personality Inventory test and the NEO-PI. Both correlate well with job success, they aren't diagnostic and they have a good reputation as being valid and reliable.

Recent case: To qualify for promotions, three Rent-A-Center employees had to take the MMPI test, which included true/false questions such as "I see things that others don't see" and "I hear voices." All three scored low enough to disqualify them from promotion. They sued, alleging that the MMPI amounted to a medical test designed to detect depression, hypochondria and paranoia (all disabilities under the ADA). The federal appeals court ruled the test illegal under the ADA because it was designed to ferret out psychiatric disabilities. (Karakker, et al., v. Rent-A-Center, No. 04-2881, 7th Cir., 2005)

Online resource: For advice on personality tests, go to www.siop.org/workplace (click on Employment Testing).

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