BOX 4-2: Testing and the Worksite:
Issues Around Discrimination and Accommodation

Many firms use tests developed and validated by psychologists for employment purposes. Psychological tests-- including cognitive ability tests, personality tests, honesty and integrity tests, and interest inventories--can be used by organizations in screening of applicants, and in the promotion, training, and development of employees. The use of such tests raise concerns about validity, privacy, and discrimination. The ADA adds to the constellation of concerns. This box describes the issues raised by the ADA and psychological testing for people with psychiatric disabilities.

The ADA specifically enjoinders against discriminatory employment tests. Discrimination is defined to include:

The EEOC regulations further clarify:

The ADA does not outlaw the use of psychological tests for employment purposes; nor does it mandate a standard of proven relevance to a particular job. Rather, it entreats against testing which has a discriminatory impact on people with disabilities. And even this requirement takes a back seat to business necessity.

The impact of psychological testing on people with psychiatric disabilities seldom has been discussed; indeed, the EEOC's regulatory language specifies only "impaired sensory, manual or speaking skills." Nonetheless, questions may arise concerning the potential discriminatory impact of employment testing on people with psychiatric disabilities and accommodations useful to this population.

In many instances, the same psychological test can be used for different purposes and in different settings, such as both employment selection and clinical diagnosis. This has raised the issue of whether or not psychological tests should be viewed as pre-employment tests or medical exams, which are more stringently regulated under the ADA. Wayne Camara, the Assistant Executive Director of Science at the American Psychological Association, asserts that "tests used in an employment context, to measure job related functions or characteristics as opposed to diagnostic purposes, do not constitute medical examinations. Often instruments originally designed for clinical purposes are used to identify suitability for the job or to predict job performance. Used in such contexts any diagnostic information that could possibly reveal the presence and nature of a psychiatric disability are not sought nor reported to an employer." The EEOC has not released relevant guidelines to date; however, the commission is currently working on guidance for pre-employment medical exams that will include a section on psychological testing. The guidelines will most likely consist of factors an employer can review to determine whether a test is medical or not. If tests are used primarily in a clinical setting to diagnose psychiatric disabilities, the test may be considered a medical exam under the ADA.

An individual with a psychiatric disability may need accommodation during a testing procedure; the ADA does require "reasonable accommodation" during pre-employment testing. Accommodating individuals with psychiatric disabilities during pre-employment exams raises some dilemmas. Disclosure of a disability is required before an accommodation may be required. The stigma and discrimination so often attached to mental disorders may hinder disclosure during the application process. Advocates suggest that most people with a psychiatric disability will not disclose during the application process for this reason. The price of not disclosing also may be high; an individual with a psychiatric disability may fail to be hired in the face of impaired performance on a psychological test.

Another issue raised by accommodating individuals with disabilities during pre-employment testing is identifying useful accommodations. OTA was unable to find data that document accommodations that may be useful or effective for people with psychiatric disabilities. Commonly used test modifications may be helpful for persons with specific psychiatric disabilities, however, including changes in the time allowed for tests, and the administration of tests individually rather than in a group. Test modifications, even commonly used ones, do raise questions concerning reliability and validity.


American Psychological Association, Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1985); W.J. Camara, Assistant Executive Director for Science, American Psychological Association, Washington, DC, personal communication, May 24-25, 1993, Sept. 24, 1993, and Jan. 18, 1994; C. Hansen, "Psychological Assessment: A Research Literature Review," A Handbook of Psychological Assessment, C. Hansen (ed.) (New York, NY: Quorum books, 1991); R. Klimoski, Professor of Psychology, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, personal communication, May 24, 1993; D.J. Kleinke, Director, Employment Testing, Edison Electric Institute, Washington, DC, personal communication, Jan. 12, 1994; R. Klimoski, and S. Palmer, "The ADA and the Hiring Process in Organizations," Consulting Psychology Journal 45(2):10-35, 1993; P.R. Mastroianni, Assistant Legal Counsel, ADA Policy Division, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Washington, DC, personal communication, May 24, 1993; J.W. Parry, "Mental Disabilities Under the ADA: A Difficult Path to Follow," Mental and Physical Disability Law Reporter 17:100-112, 1993.

Hit the "back" button on your browser.