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EEOC Says High School Diploma Requirement May Violate ADA

    Client Alerts
  • December 16, 2011

Job postings routinely require that the applicant have a high school diploma or its equivalent to be considered for employment. According to an informal policy letter issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's ADA/GINA Policy Division in October, this requirement could violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The letter raised the point that some students are unable to graduate from high school because they cannot pass state tests required to obtain a diploma due to learning disabilities. The EEOC went on to explain under what circumstances an employer could rely on the high school graduation requirement to exclude disabled applicants from employment.

According to the EEOC, for any employment selection criteria, the employer bears the burden of demonstrating that it is consistent with business necessity. In other words, the employer cannot simply require a high school diploma for the job without explaining why performance of the actual job duties demands this achievement. If the functions can be performed by someone without the diploma, the employer will not have met its burden under the ADA.

Even if the employer demonstrates business necessity behind the high school graduation requirement, when faced with a disabled applicant, it must attempt to provide reasonable accommodations that would allow the applicant to perform the job even in the absence of the high school diploma. If the applicant can perform the essential functions of the job with reasonable accommodation, the employer must waive the graduation requirement.

Most employers that require a high school diploma never believe that they might be called upon to justify the applicability of this requirement to the particular job in question. Even though the EEOC letter is an informal opinion and not the official policy of the Commission, it provides insight as to how the agency might approach this issue during an enforcement proceeding. As with any employment selection criteria, employers should be prepared to demonstrate the business reasons behind the high school diploma requirement, and understand their obligation to provide accommodations to a disabled applicant who is unable to achieve graduation.