You might have heard of jobseekers being asked to complete a “personality test” as part of a job application, or been through the process yourself.
The questions can range from the innocuous to the deeply personal, with some applicants reporting being asked about their political views in such tests. The Guardian Australia recently reported one jobseeker was asked to do a personality test assessing “zest” and “spirituality”.
So, what can and can’t prospective employers ask in a personality test?
But it’s not always easy to prove the employer did actually make a decision based on the response you gave.
For example, say an employer asks a job applicant with a physical disability about what changes they would need in the workplace to accommodate their disability, and then doesn’t hire them because of the costs involved. A court might find that to be disability discrimination.
Anti-discrimination law: it’s complicated
Blatant examples like this are unlikely, because workplace discrimination has been unlawful for four decades; savvy employers know what not to do.
But what about a recruiter asking if the candidate sees themselves as “lively” or “energetic”? Could this question be used to work out age, and then used to deny an older applicant the job? This could be age discrimination but it’s not easy to prove.
And if someone finds they weren’t hired even though they had the right skills but they’re over 55 and didn’t describe themselves as “energetic”, how will they ever prove age was a factor in the hiring decision?
No wonder people are sceptical about providing information – they don’t know why employers want this information or what they’re going to do with it.
Anti-discrimination laws require the candidate to prove that the reason they weren’t hired was because of their disability or age. Unless the employer told them this or put it in writing, this is very difficult.
Without direct evidence, the candidate will have to ask the court to infer that the reason they weren’t hired was because of their disability or age.
This is a costly exercise, especially if lawyers are involved. Even if the candidate wins, compensation payouts are not windfalls. It’s not surprising so many discrimination claims are settled or abandoned.
The Woolworths case
He lodged a complaint and the case was heard in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Woolworths said it needed his date of birth to streamline recruitment, helping determine if he could work in its liquor outlets and his rate of pay.
Woolworths could have collected this information in other ways, such as asking if he was aged over 18, and requiring him to show evidence of age if hired.
Woolworths was ordered to pay the man A$5,000.
The tribunal also noted it had, by then, already taken steps to change the online application form, which had addressed all of his concerns.
This case did not involve personality testing, but it does show how employers should be clear about why they’re seeking personal information.
The decision in the Woolworths case came about a year after the man applied for the job, showing how slow and onerous a court or tribunal process can be. Most wouldn’t bother to try.
It’s about how information is used
If the data show a lack of women in certain jobs, they can take note and actively recruit women, or encourage women to seek promotion.
- ^ political views (www.abc.net.au)
- ^ reported (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ makes a decision based on the response (www.fairwork.gov.au)
- ^ disability discrimination (www6.austlii.edu.au)
- ^ Sexual harassment claims are costly and complex – can this be fixed? (theconversation.com)
- ^ settled or abandoned (classic.austlii.edu.au)
- ^ CC BY (creativecommons.org)
- ^ prohibited (www8.austlii.edu.au)
- ^ issue for Woolworths in 2014 (www.sbs.com.au)
- ^ found (www8.austlii.edu.au)
- ^ section 9 (www8.austlii.edu.au)
- ^ Anti-Discrimination Act (www8.austlii.edu.au)
- ^ useful (journals.latrobe.edu.au)
- ^ Workplace Gender Equality Agency (www.wgea.gov.au)
- ^ Why using Myers-Briggs at work Might Be a Terrible Idea (MBTI) (theconversation.com)
- ^ as long as the employer can show (www8.austlii.edu.au)
Authors: Dominique Allen, Associate Professor, Monash University