Effective use of assessment tools and procedures saves valuable time, money and resources. Get it right, and both the individual and organisation benefit. Get it wrong, and you could end up in court, as happened to this US company.
Georgia-Pacific Corporation wanted the workers it hired to be able to read and understand safety instructions and manuals. They also wanted to assess potential of new hires for promotion at a later time. Every new hire at the mill in Georgia was required to pass a literacy test in which they were asked to read bus schedules, product labels, and other real-life stimuli to test their reading.
Sounds like a great plan especially since basic literacy is important for most jobs. However, Georgia-Pacific ran into a problem. A disproportionate number of African-Americans failed the test. So instead of raising the skill levels of its employees, Georgia-Pacific got slapped with a huge compensation bill payable to the 399 black applicants who applied to the company but were rejected for hire.
To be fair, the violation was not totally fixed on the literacy test for pre-hire. The challenge actually resulted because high degrees of literacy were not required for the mill jobs. They were however required for supervisory and management level positions. Therefore, candidates were not disqualified because they could not do the entry-level job but because they did not have the potential to advance.
The moral of the story is clear. Employment testing is safe to use as long as you are testing for the skills and job fit required for the job. But testing for skills, attitudes and behaviours that are not required to perform effectively and discriminate against certain groups may come back to bite employers.
If you are testing applicants with the goal of promoting them, then, in effect, you are testing an entry-level candidate for a supervisory position. The lesson here is that if you are going to have a test for a job, it has to be for that particular job â€“ not some future job.