Pre-Employment Physical Testing

We have developed guidance and practical steps for you to implement each of the ten areas of focus when creating an effective Safety & Wellness Program at your organization. The following guidance correlates to focus area number two: Pre-employment Physical Testing.

The hiring process can be filled with many unknowns. Even with the proper skills and qualifications, you never know how someone will perform once on the job. This is especially dangerous with physically demanding jobs as it could put that employee or their co-workers at risk for injury.

Pre-employment physical testing is designed to provide employers with a way to test potential new hires’ ability to tolerate the physical requirements of the job. Tests can range from short ‘lift tests’ to longer evaluations that involve cardiovascular fitness, strength and stress position tolerance.

An employer has the option to make a job offer conditional upon the new hire passing the pre-employment physical test. If the test is directly related to the physical tasks of the job, and a prospective employee fails one or more parts of the test, legally the employer has the right to rescind the offer.

Types of Tests

Depending on the needs of the employer, a variety of options exist for pre-employment tests. There are three types of physical testing: isokinetic testing, dynamic lift testing and aerobic testing.

  • Isokinetic testing will assess strength and muscular endurance while stationary. This test specifically measures the strength of muscles that affect the movement of joints, such as the shoulder, knee and ankle.
  • Dynamic lift testing tests the capability of certain muscle groups while in motion. This usually involves lifting equipment from the job or performing a simulation using weights, lift boxes, carts or sleds.
  • Aerobic testing examines the maximum amount of aerobic physiological work that an individual can do by using treadmills, arm bikes, bicycles or step platforms to measure oxygen consumption. The oxygen maximum is then compared to the requirements of the job to ensure that the worker can meet the job’s aerobic demands.

Determining What Test to Use

A pre-employment testing program should follow specific steps. To validate that the test is appropriate and accurate for the job, employers should:

  1. Use an onsite evaluation by a therapist to determine the physical essential job functions (EJFs) by talking with knowledgeable employees and/or supervisors.
  2. Conduct a thorough review of the EJFs determined by the therapist. Certify that the data collected is accurate.
  3. Have the knowledgeable employees and/or supervisors go through the test to determine if it measured the physical demands of the job.
  4. Get feedback from the tested employees and/or supervisors and make modifications as needed.

American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Regulations

Pre-employment tests are valuable to workers and employers as they have been shown to decrease injuries and lost work days.

There are specific guidelines that employers must follow. Both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) limit what can and cannot be expected of a potential worker during a test.


Prohibits the discrimination of “otherwise qualified individuals” due to a disability in all areas of employment. However, it permits employers to ensure that a prospective hire does not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals in the workplace.

Note: The ADA defines “direct threat” as a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by reasonable accommodation. The EEOC regulations extend that definition to include situations where there is a significant risk to the individual as well as others.

Determining whether an individual poses a “direct threat” requires an assessment of the individual’s ability to safely perform the essential functions of the job. Following these guidelines and having an external vendor determine the essential functions of a job will ensure a legally defensible test.

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