Was a job applicant with Asperger’s Syndrome discriminated against by being required to sit a psychometric test?

Background

Ms Brookes has Asperger’s syndrome.  A law graduate, she applied to join the Government Legal Service (GLS).   The initial stage of the recruitment process involved a multiple choice psychometric test based on situational judgment.  Ms Brookes asked if an adjustment could be made to the format of the test on account of her Asperger’s; she requested to provide short narrative answers. GLS declined this request but indicated that extra time and a guaranteed interview scheme were available at a later stage in the recruitment process were she successful in getting through the initial stage.

Ms Brookes did not pass the psychometric test and subsequently brought claims in the employment tribunal for disability discrimination. She claimed that GLS had indirectly discriminated against her by requiring a multiple choice test which placed her at a particular disadvantage and which could not be justified. She also claimed that it had failed to make reasonable adjustments to the test (ie accept short narrative answers) and that she had suffered discrimination because of something arising as a consequence of her disability.

The Employment Tribunal upheld Ms Brookes’ complaints.  It ordered GLS to pay compensation of £860 and gave a recommendation for a written apology as well as a review of its recruitment procedures to allow greater flexibility in its psychometric testing regime.

Appeal Decision

GLS appealed unsuccessfully to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).  The EAT acknowledged that GLS needed to test the core competency of an applicant’s ability to make effective decisions, but held that the Tribunal was entitled to reject the argument that the only way of doing this was by means of the psychometric test. It did not accept the GLS’s argument that the format of the test was inextricably linked to the core competency being tested. Further, it was proportionate to allow Ms Brookes to provide short written answers even though that might have led to extra cost and introduced a subjective element into testing which was designed to be marked by a computer.

Comment

Employers who use psychometric testing as part of their recruitment process should take note.  A test which is intended to ensure a level playing field and eliminate human bias is not necessarily free from discrimination.  Employers should consider making appropriate adjustments where a disabled job applicant would be put to a disadvantage by the method or process being used.

For advice and guidance on employment law, contact Thursfields Employment Law Team: Michelle Chamberlain on 01905 677041 or email: mchamberlain@thursfields.co.uk

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