NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Are Personality Tests Discriminatory?

October 1, 2014

Giving personality tests to potential employees has grown in popularity in recent years. Today, between 60 percent and 70 percent of job-seekers are required to take personality tests, report Lauren Weber and Elizabeth Dwoskin of the Wall Street Journal, and the industry continues to grow by 10 percent a year.

A number of major companies employ these tests during the hiring process. For example:

  • RadioShack employs a personality test which asks applicants whether they agree that, "Over the course of the day, I can experience many mood changes."
  • McDonald's gives potential hires a test as well, asking whether the job-seeker agrees with the statement, "If something very bad happens, it takes some time before I feel happy again."

Companies across the country use these tests. In addition to RadioShack and McDonald's, Xerox, Kroger, PetSmart, Walgreen's, Home Depot, Lowe's, CVS and others use personality assessments. According to the companies, the tests have been a success.

  • Xerox says that its attrition rate in customer service jobs (which have a very high turnover rate) has fallen by 20 days since it began employing the tests. The company's vice president of recruitment says that she is "shocked" by how accurate the tests are.
  • According to Dialog Direct, a call-center operator, the tests predict with 80 percent accuracy which of its employees will receive the best performance scores.
  • Firms find the tests especially useful for customer-service jobs. Xerox determined that its applicants who received high empathy scores perform especially well in customer service positions.

But not everyone thinks the tests, just one part of the job application process, are a good idea. Civil rights groups have alleged that they may be discriminatory against those with mental illness, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is currently investigating whether the tests discriminate against individuals with disabilities. According to EEOC legal counsel Christopher Kuczynski, "If a person's results are affected by the fact that they have an impairment and the results are used to exclude the person from a job, the employer needs to defend their use of the test."

Kyle Behm, a biopolar college student, applied to jobs in 2012 at Finish Line, Home Depot, Kroger, Lowe's, PetSmart, Walgreen's and Yum Brands. He was turned down for all of the jobs and was told by a Kroger worker that he scored poorly on the personality test. Behm has filed a complaint with the EEOC based on the tests. If the EEOC rules against the tests, companies will have to defend their use of the assessments and show that they are not discriminatory.

Source: Lauren Weber and Elizabeth Dwoskin, "Are Workplace Personality Tests Fair?" Wall Street Journal, September 30, 2014.


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