Updated EEOC Guidelines on the Legality of Education Requirements

In our December 2011 newsletter, we told you about an informal discussion letter that the EEOC issued, which questioned the legality of businesses requiring high school diplomas for some jobs.  Due to understandable push-back from the business community, the EEOC has now changed and clarified its stance on this issue.

The EEOC’s original position was that if a company required a high school diploma for a job, it might be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Their thought process seemed to be that there are jobs (they used janitorial positions as an example) that could be performed by someone who doesn’t have a high school diploma, and that by requiring a high school diploma, a company might be discriminating against someone who didn’t graduate due to a learning disability.

Understandably, the business community reacted quickly and loudly to the EEOC’s actions, which seemed to undermine businesses’ basic abilities to set minimum standards of qualifications for their workforce!

Here’s the EEOC’s new opinion on employers requiring high school diplomas:

In light of the forceful push-back from businesses, the EEOC has backed off its strong stance, and is now clarifying, and apparently modifying its strong initial approach.

  • The EEOC is reassuring businesses that they absolutely may adopt a requirement that job applicants must have a high school diploma.
  • They go on to state that they do not want to provide protections or incentives to people who simply decide not to complete their high school educations.
  • They do want to provide protections to job seekers with genuine learning disabilities that prevent them from attaining a high school diploma.

In instances where a learning disability prevented a job seeker from obtaining a high school diploma, the job seeker could still apply for a position with a high school diploma education requirement, and would then have to:

  • Make the business aware of their disability
  • Provide documentation of the disability and that it actually prevented them from achieving their diploma
  • Prove in some other way that they still have the qualifications to perform the duties of the job

The bottom line:

I think the bottom line here for companies is that you can still set some minimum standards for your workforce.  Just keep in mind that there are some folks that have extenuating circumstances.  When you draw a line in the sand, remember that the waves may soften your line.  You’ll need to use the human touch to apply your rules to the human beings that apply for your jobs.

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