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Ensure business need for literacy requirement

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Do you require basic literacy for every job? If so, the EEOC may soon be knocking on your door.

The agency has just won the right to rifle through an employer’s files for job descriptions to justify a broad literacy requirement.

Recent case: Kevin was born in Jamaica and can neither read nor write English. He worked temporary assignments as a laborer for Rand­­stad, a large national temp-services company. When he arrived at his third job, the client company asked him to fill out forms.

That’s when he called Randstad for help and was informed for the first time that literacy was a basic requirement for any assignment.

Kevin filed an EEOC complaint, alleging race discrimination. Later, he added disability discrimination after tests revealed learning disabilities that prevented him from reading or writing.

The EEOC took up the cause, subpoenaing Randstad and demanding job descriptions and employee rec­­ords that might show whether reading and writing really was a minimum requirement for every position the company filled for client companies.

Randstad refused to comply and took the question to federal court. The trial judge refused to enforce the subpoenas, but the EEOC appealed.

Now the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has reinstated the subpoenas, ordering the company to comply—despite an estimated cost of $19,000. (EEOC v. Rands­­tad, No. 11-1759, 4th Cir., 2012)

Final note: Ensure there’s a good, business-related reason for any literacy requirement. That’s especially true of lower-level jobs such as cleaning, stocking and other unskilled positions. If literacy isn’t essential, don’t require it.

And remember that if an applicant can’t complete application forms, he or she may be disabled and entitled to reasonable accommodations such as assistance filling out the paperwork.

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