EEOC Warns that Requiring a High School Diploma May Violate the ADA

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has stated that an employer’s requirement that job applicants hold a high-school diploma may violate the Americans With Disabilities Act. The EEOC made the statement in an informal discussion letter posted on the EEOC website last month.

The EEOC said that the diploma requirement must be “job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity.” To be job related and consistent with business necessity, the diploma requirement must “accurately measure[] the ability to perform the job’s essential functions (i.e. its fundamental duties),” the EEOC explained.

Even where the requirement is job related and a business necessity, the requirement may still be unlawful “if it screens out an individual on the basis of disability,” the EEOC said. The EEOC indicated that, in such cases, the employer must “demonstrate” that the disabled individual cannot perform the essential functions of the job even with a reasonable accommodation.

The EEOC opined that:

Thus, 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. It may do so, for example, by considering relevant work history and/or by allowing the applicant to demonstrate an ability to do the job’s essential functions during the application process. If the individual can perform the job’s essential functions, with or without a reasonable accommodation, despite the inability to meet the standard, the employer may not use the high school diploma requirement to exclude the applicant.

The EEOC’s informal discussion letter is not “an official opinion of the EEOC” and does not have the force of law or regulation. Employers should take note, however, because the EEOC may bring claims against employers for indiscriminately requiring job applicants to hold high-school diplomas.

As a precaution, employers should consider evaluating their job descriptions to determine whether a high-school diploma is necessary to perform the essential functions of the job; and, if so, whether a disabled person could perform the job if given a reasonable accommodation.

For more information on this issue or for assistance in ensuring workplace compliance, please contact me directly.

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