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Review your personality test: Is it an illegal ‘medical’ exam?

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Issue: A recent court ruling says certain employment personality tests may violate the ADA.

Risk: If your test screens out people with mental disorders, it could be deemed an illegal pre-employment test.

Action: Examine your testing process, or talk to your test vendor, to see if your test includes the illegal "diagnostic" component.

If your job-screening process includes personality testing, analyze that test now to see if it includes any questions that could be considered "medical inquiries" that would reveal 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 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. A federal court has now said the MMPI test fits into that category. (Tests that simply measure personality traits like honesty and work ethic don't constitute "medical exams.")

Certain personality tests can keep you on firmer legal ground. Those include the Hogan Personality Inventory test and the NEO-PI.

The case: To qualify for promotions, three 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. They sued, alleging that the MMPI amounted to a medical test designed to detect depression and paranoia (all disabilities under the ADA). The federal appeals court agreed. (Karakker, et al., v. Rent-A-Center, No. 04-2881, 7th Cir., 2005)

Online resource: For advice on personality tests, go to (click on Employment Testing).

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