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Can You Legally Require a H.S. Diploma for All Jobs?

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If "must have a high school diploma" is a prerequisite for positions you advertise, take note: An “informal discussion letter” from the EEOC has employment-law circles buzzing — and creating uncertainty about employers’ use of diplomas as hiring criteria.

The nonbinding EEOC letter said employers, in some instances, could infringe on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if they require all applicants to have a high school diploma.

According to the EEOC 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 you can prove a diploma requirement is “job-related” and necessary for business, you must also show that an applicant who doesn’t meet that standard (say, due to a learning disability) is unable to perform the essential functions of the job, even with an accommodation.

Attorney Maria Danaher of Ogletree Deakins in Pittsburgh says that while employers are not required to “prefer” a learning disabled applicant over other applicants with more extensive qualifications, “it is clear that the EEOC is informing employers that disabled individuals cannot be excluded from consideration for employment based on artificial barriers in the form of inflexible qualification standards.”

You can read the full EEOC discussion letter at www.theHRSpecialist.com/diploma.

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