WorkSaver Fitness-for-Duty Spotlight

26 Jul

Physical abilities testing conducted in fit-for-duty (FFD) examinations can potentially create an adverse impact on hiring certain classes of test recipients such as women. The increasing number of women entering more labor-intensive jobs traditionally performed by men represent a changing demographic in the work force today. Therefore, the FFD process must be carefully designed to avoid creating unfair discriminatory hiring or return to work practices.

When hiring practices such as FFD tests adversely impact any class of people, federal law requires that a validation study be completed in order to support the selection method. It is obvious, given that more women are entering physically demanding jobs, that FFD tests may have an adverse impact on females.1 Adverse impact is defined as a selection rate for females less than 80% of the male selection rate.2 The potential for adverse impact from job-specific functional testing used in hiring practices, particularly based on the 80% rule, can be expected in any labor intensive job. This potential for adverse impact in the selection of females when testing for physical capacities is related primarily to strength3,4,5 and oxygen uptake (VO2 max) differences between male and females.6,7,8

Regarding gender related strength differences, women are most notably weaker than men in the upper body. This has direct relevance to job demands that have physical demands requiring upper body strength such as heavy lifting above the waist level. Therefore, creating job-simulated lift tests that require lifting above the waist can create a disparity in the number of women failing the employment test as compared to men.

The key to avoiding unfair disparity or discrimination in hiring when it comes to the issue of gender, is to ensure that the essential functions of the job have been validated and used correctly in the FFD testing process. If the employer, for example, has properly validated job tasks requiring lifting above the waist as being essential job functions, then the disparity in a FFD test failure rate of a larger percentage of women as compared to men can be justified and defended.

One of the key goals of a job physical demands validation (PDV) as conducted by WorkSaver Systems is to identify and measure physical demands of a job task that are essential rather than marginal or non-essential. In this process, reasonable ergonomic interventions that reduce or eliminate material handling demands must be considered when determining which job tasks are essential or non-essential. This is particularly important for the proper design of a legally defensible FFD Test. In the next WorkSaver Newsletter, we will provide more detailed information regarding adverse impact on employee selection and how to identify a job task that is essential versus non-essential.


  1. Hogan, J. C. Physical Abilities. In: Dunnette, M.D., and L.M. Hough (eds). Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 2nd ed. Vol. 2.Chap. 11. Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists Press, 1991, pp.743-831.
  2. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Civil Service Commission, Department of Labor, and Department of Justice. Uniform Guidelines onemployment selection procedures. Federal Register 43:1978.
  3. Hoffman, T., R. Stouffer, and A.S. Jackson. Sex differences in strength. Am. J. Sports Med. 7:265-267, 1979;
  4. Laubach, L. L. Comparative muscular strength on men and women: a review of the literature. Aviat. Space Environ. Med. 47:534-542, 1976.
  5. NIOSH. Pre-employment Strength Testing., Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1977
  6. Jackson, A.S. Preemployment Physical Evaluation, Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 1994, 22:53-90.
  7. 7 Jackson, A. S., S. N. Blair, M.T. Mahar, L. T. Wier, R. M. Ross, and J.E. Stuteville. Prediction of functional aerobic capacity without exercises testing. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 22: 863-870, 1990);
  8. Vogel, J. A., J. F. Patton, R. P. Mello, and W.L. Daniels. An analysis of aerobic capacity in a large United States population. J. Appl. Psychol. 60:494-500, 1986.)

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