EEOC Questions Diploma Requirements

Susan Hall
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Though employers routinely make a high school diploma a requirement in most any job, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission seems to be questioning that as a basic practice.


In an "informal discussion letter" on the EEOC's website, the agency says that requirement could run afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act if the applicant has a learning disability that prevents him or her from attaining that diploma.


My colleague Don Tennant, in a post last year, raised the question of whether high school dropouts could be good IT job candidates. Yet a recent study by the Georgetown University Center for Education in the Workforce found that it's getting harder than ever to attain middle-class status without some post-secondary education. At the same time, IT is a field that candidates can enter by pursuing certifications and experience, then gaining more training as they go.


But what about those with learning disabilities? Their rate of unemployment is twice that of the general population, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities.


The site TLNT notes that an "informal discussion" isn't policy, but it could indicate the federal agency is thinking about stepping up action in this area. It quotes from the letter:

if an employer adopts a high school diploma requirement for a job, and that requirement "screens out" an individual who is unable to graduate because of a learning disability that meets the ADA's definition of "disability," the employer may not apply the standard unless it can demonstrate that the diploma requirement is job-related and consistent with business necessity. The employer will not be able to make this showing, for example, if the functions in question can easily be performed by someone who does not have a diploma.

Even if the diploma requirement is job-related and consistent with business necessity, the employer may still have to determine whether a particular applicant whose learning disability prevents him from meeting it can perform the essential functions of the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation.

The article notes that requiring that diploma can limit the candidate pool. For instance, according to the Census Bureau, 87.1 percent of the U.S. population over 24 has a high school degree. However, only 62.9 percent of Hispanics do.


Meanwhile, Business Insurance quotes Diana Hoover, a partner with law firm Hoover Kernell in Houston, saying:

Employers "just assume it's OK" to require a high school diploma. It helps them ensure sure both the applicant is not too young, assuming he or she must be at least 18 to have a diploma, and that the person has "some basic skill level of reading, writing and mathematical ability."

However, employers should review their job requirements to confirm if there is a high school requirement that is necessitated by the job's duties.

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