Psychological and Personality Testing in Employment Screening

Most companies realize the value in using psychological tests as part of the employee selection and promotion process. Testing can often bring objectivity and validity to the recruitment process; however employers who administer tests in the hiring or promotion processes must be aware of the legal obstacles and privacy risks involved.

Why use psychological and personality tests?

Pre-employment testing can be useful in reducing the time HR personnel spend interviewing applicants by automatically eliminating a percentage of the applicant pool. Psychological tests can also be helpful in determining an employee or applicant’s honesty and integrity. Integrity tests are written tests that predict whether an employee will engage in theft, as well as reflect their general trustworthiness and dependability.

Risks Involved

There are significant legal implications in administering psychological tests to employees and applicants. For instance, the 2005 case Karraker v. Rent-A-Center Inc. shows the risks associated with psychological testing. The case held that administering certain psychological tests to employees violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The court found that the employer’s use of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) as part of its testing process for managers violated the ADA. The MMPI is a test for adult psychopathology and can be used by medical professionals to diagnose some psychiatric disorders.

Furthermore, employers could face lawsuits from employees who believe that confidentiality laws were violated in the handling of their test results. Employers have an obligation to maintain confidentiality of the test answers and to avoid providing information that could be deemed confidential without the employee’s consent.

For these reasons, certain states have enacted laws prohibiting the psychological testing of employees. Other states have stringent statutes banning the use of lie-detector testing. Massachusetts broadened the scope of its polygraph-protection law to prevent employers from using written examinations used to render a diagnostic opinion regarding an individual’s honesty. California and Rhode Island laws require that honesty and integrity exams cannot be the primary basis for making hiring, firing or promotion decisions.

Best Practices

It should be clear that use of psychological or personality testing of current or potential employees represents a risk for litigation. Employers still considering such tests should consider the following precautions and practices:

  • Never use psychological or personality tests as the sole criterion for hiring or promotion decisions.
  • Avoid using tests that require analysis by a psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker.
  • Review existing tests to ensure they do not include a psychological diagnostic component. Ensure the test does not contribute to a finding of a particular mental impairment or psychological disorder.
  • Ensure the test is statistically valid, reliable and devoid of cultural and ethnic bias.
  • Use tests that are job-related and of a business necessity.
  • Administer the test in a standardized fashion that ensures that all job applicants or employees are assessed in the same way.
  • Monitor the test results to ensure that there is not a disparate impact on certain groups.
  • Take active steps to ensure the confidentiality of test responses.
  • Monitor workplace statistics on attrition, theft, turnover and production to determine whether the use of these tests has resulted in a reduction of identified counterproductive or undesirable behaviors.
  • Consult a lawyer or advisor with expertise in the area of employment screening before implementing testing activities. At the very least, an employer must comply with federal requirements, as well as any additional requirements imposed by the state where the test is being administered.

Common Tests

Psychological and personality tests assess an individual’s general aptitude, intelligence and personality. Some common test types are introduced below.

  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – This testing system is generally used by private companies and federal government agencies. It organizes personality data along four scales of opposing characteristics. Companies use this test to match employees to the right jobs, improve organizational communications and design training programs.
  • IPIP-NEO Personality Test – This measures an employee’s personality of five broad personality categories and 30 sub-categories. Organizations often use this test to evaluate an employee’s ability to get along in a multicultural setting.
  • Kolbe Index – This is based on the notion that an employee’s problem-solving abilities are stable and independent of intelligence, personality and education. Employees are asked to answer several multiple-choice questions based on problem-solving scenarios.


Psychological and personality testing can often bring objectivity and validity to the recruitment process; however employers who administer tests in the hiring or promotion processes must be aware of the legal obstacles and privacy risks involved. This article examines some of the risks involved in testing and introduces best practices for employers interested in conducting such tests for current or future employees.

CIPP Exam Preparation

In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/United States (CIPP/US) exam,  a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:

  • Employee background screening (IV.B.a.)
  • Screening methods – personality and psychological evaluations (IV.B.a.ii.1.)

3 comments to Psychological and Personality Testing in Employment Screening

  • Kenneth Rubin

    I found this article to be very informative. I was interested to learn about certain job candidacy testing since I was refused access to the test result after being informed that I was no longer being considered for employment. Can they exclude me from the test results? Thank you.

  • Sarah Anderson

    After taking Wonderlic CPP I was informed that I was no longer being considered for employment. I too want to know if I can get access to the results. Thanks.

  • A previous employer once explained to be careful with the commentary placed into an intervieiw writeup, the information goes into the candidate’s file. If the company tenders an offer, and the candidate accepts, they have every right to access their HR file. This was during the 2000′s and in the US, and the laws are probably based on the corporate headquarters location. The privacy laws in certain states are more stringent, so until Congress ratifies a Federal privacy law, a MA or CA company will give more rights than other states. EU companies will have completely different and a much more citizen-centric bend.

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