The Unforeseen and Unintended Consequences of Bans on Personality Testing



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On February 13th, the Nevada assembly heard a proposal for a new bill, Nevada AB132. The bill itself is only 2.5 pages long and is pretty easy to read, but effectively has two parts:

  1. Making it unlawful to deny employment on the basis of a marijuana screening test
  2. Making it unlawful to condition employment on the completion, or results, of a personality test

The first part of the bill concerning pre-hiring marijuana testing has received a fair amount of local news coverage, and is outside of my areas of expertise. However, I will say it does seem odd that one can be excluded from a job for testing positive for a drug that is recreationally legal in the state. If an alcohol test could determine if you drank alcohol at any time over the past, say 30 days, should people of legal age to consume alcohol be excluded from jobs on the basis of that test result?

The second part has received far less attention, but is nonetheless disturbing. The key part of the bill reads:

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In other words, this is a ban on using personality assessments for the purposes of employee selection.

What does this have to do with marijuana screenings you may ask? At face value, very little. However, one of the bill’s sponsors, Assemblyperson Dina Neal, provided some insight in a recent interview:

Neal said she had a constituent who applied for a retail association position to stock shelves and was subjected to a 50-question character assessment, which prompted her to add the provision to the bill.

Neal said she is willing to work to address concerns. “I’m open to finding a solution,” she added. “The solution needs to lead to people finding a way to get a job, not the opposite.”

Clearly, the intention of this bill is to remove barriers for employment. I fully support the intention of the bill. However, if this bill is passed Nevada will suffer a number of unintended consequences. To understand why, consider the following two points:

  1. All employers must make employment decisions. These decisions can be based on many things: a coin flip, a dream, a lie detector test, an interview, a behavioral test, resumes, references, a personality assessment, etc. Obviously, some of these methods are more valid at predicting job performance than others (e.g., a coin flip is random, a lie detector has no validity). The validity evidence for personality assessments is overwhelming and undeniable. A meta-analysis by Barrick and Mount (1991) showed this definitively nearly 30 years ago. Since then, the validity evidence for personality has only grown more massive and more convincing (e.g., personality and workplace safety; an update of Barrick and Mount). Our own data show that when personality assessments are properly aligned with job performance criteria, personality predicts job performance as well as any cognitive ability assessment (curiously, cognitive ability assessments were not mentioned in the bill at all) and better than interviews. The evidence is quite clear: if one is making an employment decision, well-validated personality assessments based on scientific principles provide useful predictive insights into the candidates potential job performance.
  2. Personality assessment for the purposes of employment selection largely came as a response to the Civil Rights Act and the creation of the EEOC. Virtually all personality assessments do not discriminate on the basis of sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, or age. The same is not true of interviews, resumes, or reference requirements. Additionally, while scholars debate about whether or not cognitive ability tests are discriminatory or not, it is factually true that scores on cognitive ability test do tend to show adverse impact. In this regard, well-validated personality assessments offer both a high degree of predictive validity and virtually zero discrimination. Simply put, if all hiring decisions were based on personality assessments alone, employment discrimination on the basis of gender, race, etc. would cease to exist.

In summary, personality assessments provide employers with an unbiased evaluation of a candidates work potential and job fit. When used properly, such assessments give historically discriminated against groups (e.g., women, minorities, elderly, etc.) a fair playing field in the application process. This bill would eliminate that and, presumably, leave employers with only interviews and cognitive ability tests as their main resources. The former is well-known to be biased (especially against such groups) and the latter shows marked group differences.

The Nevada Assemblyperson sponsoring this bill clearly have the best of intentions in mind. However, they do not fully understand the consequences this bill – if passed – will cause for groups who have historically been the targets of discriminatory hiring practices. In this regard, AB132 reflects a failure to educate our lawmakers about the value of personality tests in terms of validity and fairness.