Hiring and Color Vision Deficiency, HR Concerns

The ability to properly distinguish color is always an important element of printing. It becomes that much more important when considered as a part of the hiring process. What happens when a job applicant is found to be color blind? Does this deficiency prevent the applicant from meeting the criteria of the job? If yes, are there potential Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodations to be considered? These are questions HR professionals in the printing industry are forced to deal with on an increasing basis. As a result, the HR department at Printing Industries of America has decided to address this issue in depth. We have received recommendations from medical groups and researched medical texts to determine the best materials and procedures to use when testing for color vision deficiency. We have also examined legal cases to see how the ADA affects this issue.

In order to properly illustrate how color blindness, or more accurately, color vision deficiency, affects hiring in printing, one must first understand how it is diagnosed. There is no one test that comprehensively evaluates all forms of color vision deficiency. In addition, there are numerous types of deficiency in color vision with varying levels of severity. The most common forms are red-green and blue-yellow deficiency. Most of these are congenital and the individual should be aware of his/her condition by adulthood. However, other forms are acquired through injury or illness.

While color vision deficiency can be diagnosed independently by the employer, the best course of action is to have a physician perform a color vision examination. This can be made a part of any required medical examination as part of the hiring process and will produce more thorough results than in-house testing. It can also add additional validity to any hiring or employment decisions made based on test results.

Nevertheless, if an employer still wishes to purchase and administer a color vision test, there are two well-recommended tests that can be used to sufficiently screen applicants for most forms of color deficiency. They are the HRR Pseudoisochromatic Test and Farnsworth-Munsell 100-hue and D-15 tests. The HRR Pseudoisochromatic Test is most useful as an initial screening tool for most color-deficient people; however, it cannot classify types of deficiency. The Farnsworth Munsell tests are far more sensitive and accurate at determining the type and extent of deficiency present (but are also more time consuming).

It should be noted that a simple determination of color vision deficiency does not necessarily prevent an individual from distinguishing some or all colors. If the case is mild, the applicant may still be qualified to perform the job in question. The necessity of either or both tests for your company will be determined by the amount and range of color printing you would require of the position(s) in question. Smaller plants, which require color pressmen, pre-press technicians or proofers to deal with a wide range of colors, may be able to eliminate color deficient applicants from the hiring process if they test for basic color deficiency. However, larger plants using a greater division of labor in color printing, may need to do further screening. For example, an applicant who is red-green deficient may still be qualified for color specific positions dealing with blues and yellows.

As far as the effect of the ADA, there have been numerous legal challenges made by employees or applicants claiming discrimination under its rules. However, 4 out of 5 recent cases in California, New York, Arkansas and Pennsylvania have held that color blindness is not a disability under the ADA. Rulings were based on the fact the plaintiffs were not "substantially limited in the major life activity of working" or "were not prevented from performing the tasks of daily life." Put more simply, the courts' rulings surmised that the plaintiffs were able to perform a wide range of jobs other than the ones for which they were applying. In several cases, they were not limited to seeking jobs outside their preferred industry. They were simply unqualified for a small class of jobs requiring accurate color perception.

The only ruling in favor of the plaintiff found thus far was argued under an Oregon state disability statute in 1985 prior to the ADA in Quinn v. Southern Pacific Transportation Co. Testimony showed that the plaintiff could perform the work in question with a visual deficiency.

We know of only one case involving a printer, again from the 1980's, in Maryland. However, this case settled out of court before trial.

Therefore, based on recent case history, hiring decisions based on color vision and its necessity as a job function seem to be fairly safe under the ADA.

Regardless, before crafting an official hiring policy specific to color vision deficiency, the best course of action is to have legal counsel examine your state's disability statutes for any significant differences from the ADA. When writing a policy, it is best to include a color vision test as part of a physical exam required as a contingency after making an initial offer of employment. Also, make sure that job descriptions clearly state the necessity for accurate color vision for all or a particular type(s) of color(s) for all jobs dealing with color application, discernment, preparation, etc. It should state that full color vision is an essential job requirement. For example, the lead or 1st pressman may have this requirement, but the 2nd pressman may not. The hiring criteria depend on who is responsible for checking color. These steps may give added protection against challenges to hiring decisions based on color vision.

For unionized employers, color vision tests are considered a physical exam and thus is a mandatory subject of bargaining.


American Optometric Association

What Is Colorblindness and the Different Types?

New York Case Involving Color Vision Deficiency

California Case Involving Color Vision Deficiency