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Can employers require job applicants to have a high school diploma?

Posted by Jim Stergios  January 2, 2012 08:35 AM

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BNA, a subsidiary of Bloomberg L.P., is a great source of reporting on legal and regulatory issues that matter to businesses. In mid-December BNA shared the following item, which will be a shocker to most employers:

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employer's requirement that applicants have a high school diploma must be job-related and consistent with business necessity, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stated in an “informal discussion letter” posted on its website Dec. 2.

I don't know of many employers who think twice about requiring a high school diploma. The EEOC letter "does not constitute an official opinion of the commission," but rather is an indication that at a date not too far in to the future the EEOC will take up this question and make a ruling on whether requiring all job applicants to have graduated from high school is a violation of the ADA.

The letter goes on to note that

if a high school diploma requirement is job-related and consistent with business necessity, but effectively screens out a disabled applicant, the employer still may have to determine whether an individual applicant can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.

The EEOC further suggests that the onus will be on the employer to show that job applicants

cannot perform the job's essential functions with or without a reasonable accommodation, even if he or she does not meet a standard that is job-related and consistent with business necessity, the commission added.

We will have to see how the federal commission will move ahead, but the ramifications of prohibiting such "milestone" job requirements will be many:

  • Perhaps the inclusion in the workplace of disabled individuals who may either sense a barrier or who are excluded because of the requirement;
  • An unhelpful signal to those who are struggling in high school that the effort may not be necessary; and
  • An entirely new industry for lawyers to expand into.

What do you see as the impact?

Crossposted at Pioneer's blog. Follow me on twitter at @jimstergios, or visit Pioneer's website.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Jim Stergios is executive director of the Pioneer Institute. Before joining Pioneer, he was Chief of Staff and Undersecretary for Policy in the Commonwealth's Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, where More »

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