Intelligence Testing

Editor's Note: Preemployment aptitude testing might be a useful tool, but also poses risks.

David B. WeisenfeldOverview: Some employers value intelligence testing as a good way to gain more objective information about job applicants. However, employers favoring this preemployment screening method should ensure that the tests they use are professionally developed and follow proper procedures.

Furthermore, all applicants should be tested to reduce the risk of a discrimination claim. In addition, every test question should be applicable to the job for which the candidate is being considered. What's more, the test should ensure that questions account for cultural differences. That's because while an intelligence test may be facially neutral, it may have the effect of discriminating against a protected group of applicants.

Nonetheless, just because an intelligence test has an adverse impact on a protected class does not automatically make it illegal. An employer may still use the test if it can show there is a legitimate business reason behind it.

Trends: A group of rejected black firefighter applicants won a 2010 Supreme Court case in Lewis v. City of Chicago, 130 S. Ct. 2191, because an entry-level aptitude test was found to have a disparate impact on them. In contrast, the City of New Haven, Connecticut lost a reverse discrimination case just a year earlier after opting to disregard promotion test results that would have led to only white and Hispanic firefighters being promoted. Ricci v. DeStefano, 129 S. Ct. 2658 (2009).

As a result, HR must walk a delicate line. Employers must ensure both that intelligence tests are job related and that they do not discard the results of such tests without careful consideration.

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, JD, Legal Editor

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About this topic

HR guidance on using intelligence testing as part of the hiring process.