Both sides of the employment physical readiness test struggle with the implications of testing for very different and potentially misguided reasons when both likely should be focused elsewhere. Applicants or incumbents will argue over a test performance and what it implies about job suitability; while the employer/training entity may need to defend those implications and their job actions. A recent decision by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission highlights several of these important issues.
A 2011 applicant to the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (the Agency) was denied a position and subsequently challenged the decision claiming discrimination on the basis of age and disability. The complainant (Born 1946) had a total hip replacement in 2009 at the age of 63 but asserted he could run and lift and pass the fitness test. Upon review, the Agency determined the candidate was medically unsuitable for the position.
Agency medical staff considered the demands of the job, the candidate’s surgeon’s statement (the candidate) “could potentially run for short distances in emergency situations or even jump short distances if need be, but this could not happen on a routine basis due to the fact that these activities can potentially decrease the longevity of the implant”, as well as the recommendations of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons which states patients should avoid bringing the knee higher than the hip, such as when squatting or kneeling, in arriving at their decision.
The candidate filed a formal complaint with the EEOC in January 2015. In August 2017 the Agency filed a motion for Summary Judgment which was awarded September 2018. (EEOC No. 480-2016-00056X)
As noted, there are many competing interests related to physical readiness testing and the issues may differ by one’s position, however, the issue IS NOT sit ups, running, or jumping. In the presence of validity evidence, the issue is physical job readiness. This reality is all-too-often lost by potential plaintiffs who are certain of the injustice imposed upon them, by the US Department of Justice (another common plaintiff) which is often myopically focused on passing rates and not the job itself, and by the employing agency which may be struggling to fulfill its mandate in the presence of these competing interests.
In the current case, the plaintiff was apparently confident his test performance was adequate attestation as to his job suitability. Further, my experience of three decades reinforces my view many agencies, when confronted with this set of circumstances, would reflexively assume they had no recourse other than to hire this or a similarly situation candidate. Neither position is unequivocally true and there is much to be gleaned from this decision. We will explore the merits of this decision in coming installments, however, one thing is certain: the question is not “Can you pass the test?”; the question remains “Can you do the job?”