Jun 01 2015

Pre-Employment Testing

So you know what a functional job description (aka a physical demands analysis) is, but what do you do with them?

As we mentioned previously, there are two main points in an employee’s career where the functional job description is hands-down necessary. There are also some times that they simply make life a lot easier for a company.

The first is the post-offer/pre-employment screening. These screenings keep the worker safe by helping to place them in a job that they can safely perform, and they keep the employer safe in a few ways:

  • Ensure you aren’t “inheriting” an old injury that can later be wrongfully claimed against you
  • Teaching employees safe techniques to prevent injuries and claims
  • Match the worker to the appropriate job

How are Post-Offer/Pre-Employment Screenings Implemented?

First off, there is a right way and a wrong way to implement screenings of every kind. Misuse of screenings is one of the main reasons the Americans with Disabilities Act was created, and we strongly recommend that you hire an experienced consultant to perform these screenings to avoid legal issues from a potentially innocent mistake. We are very careful to ensure our clients are compliant with ADA and the EEOC.

Many employers require pre-employment physicals, and a pre-employment/post-offer screening can be a great addition to this.

Note: a screening in addition to a physical, not in place of.  A physical on it’s ownis not sufficient. A screening is a functional “test” administered based on the particular functional job description where that employee will be working. This needs to be performed by someone with a background in human movement,  specifically a physical therapist or occupational therapist This testing ensures that  the worker can complete  the essential functions of the job they are about to be assigned.  Essentially, the test will mimic the most demanding tasks of the job, and they will be evaluated to see if they can perform those duties safely (avoiding a workers comp injury).

While it’s a tempting to think that you can simply put up signs or require annual training on safe body mechanics, the fact is that once someone learns a habit, it is nearly impossible to re-learn the job in a different way. For this reason, having instruction in proper  body mechanics before the worker even starts working is the most effective time for this education to take place.


Anytime a worker has been gone from his or her job for an extended period of time (following a surgery or illness), an employer should ensure that their employee is able to safely perform their job functions. This is especially true in cases where injury or surgery was the cause of leave of absence.

Many times, a healthcare provider who doesn’t understand the job requirements is the one releasing the worker. The conversation goes something like this:

Provider: “Do you feel like you’re ready to return to work?”                                        

Worker: “Yes I think I’m ready.”

Provider: “What does your job demand?”

Worker: “I do maintenance and cleaning of the machines.”

Now imagine that the worker is out of sick-leave days or is otherwise highly motivated to return to work, even if they’re not ready. Or that the healthcare provider is (wrongly) envisioning the worker using maintenance tools that are in the 5-10 pound range, but in reality, the worker uses tools that weigh upward of 30 pounds. Could this change how this conversation goes? Maybe the worker is better suited to return to light duty for a couple weeks before being fully released.

A functional job description allows a surgeon or primary physician to understand the specific demands of the job, a therapist to optimize a rehabilitation program, and allows the same objective test to be performed as when the worker first started their job. A functional job description can help to show the worker the importance of increasing their exercise to re-condition before returning to work. Like the post-offer/pre-employment screen, this testing is not meant to keep anyone from working, but it is designed to protect the employer from preventable on-the-job injuries, presenteism and lowered productivity, and minimize the risk of costly re-injury.  Thorough testing allows objective data to determine a  worker’s ability to safely perform a job, instead of a subjective opinion.   It also ensures that all employees are treated equally in this regard.

Come back for the next post on how we utilize these tests to include fit-for-duty testing and to design stay-at-work programs to keep employees from missing work needlessly.

Sandy Greeson

Ergonomic Assessment Specialist, Essential Functions Evaluator, & Certifed Clinical Instructor