Using tests to determine promotion? Take care

The recommended basis for promotion is ability and proven performance. How to measure these qualifiers constitutes a common source of labor-management disagreement.


The recommended basis for promotion is ability and proven performance. How to measure these qualifiers constitutes a common source of labor-management disagreement. The use of tests, while generally acceptable, should apply not as a sole yes or no determinant, but as one of several judgment criteria.

When are tests useful? When are they likely to backfire? Realistically, characteristics other than ability often factor in as well.

Deciding which of three candidates to advance to Grade I Electrician -- for reasons he would be hard put to explain -- Maintenance Supervisor Phil Bradley's personal choice was Alex Marker. Still, wanting to be fair, he tested all three men using two tests: One written, one oral.

The contract stated that "in promoting employees the senior qualifying applicant shall be chosen." Bradley reviewed the test results and selected Marks for the job. Applicant Murray Brice protested his choice.

"I'm every bit as well qualified as Marks," he insisted, "plus I have better seniority."

"The tests don't support that opinion," Bradley replied.

Brice rallied Union Steward Jack Sabo to his aid. Sabo wanted to know why the test results favored Marks.

"This is a management decision," Bradley countered. "I don't have to justify it to you."

Sabo threatened to grieve.

Question : Can Bradley be forced to comply?

Breckman's decision: The supervisor decided to talk the matter over with his boss. Plant Engineer Sam Breckman reviewed the test results and wasn't convinced that Marks had scored significantly better than Brice.

"The contract specifies awarding promotions to the senior employee unless it can be proven that a junior employee is better qualified. That doesn't mean slightly better. Picayune differences don't count. The junior must be clearly superior, and the union has a right to see evidence of that superiority. Unless you can do that, Phil, I'm afraid the job must go to Brice."

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