About a month from now high school seniors will be donning funny looking caps and gowns and parading across stages to receive their hard-earned diplomas. But employers who require a high school diploma or GED as a condition of employment need to make sure this requirement is job-related and consistent with business necessity, and that it doesn't screen out individuals who cannot obtain a diploma because of a learning disability.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently published new guidance on whether an employer's requirement that a job applicant have a high school diploma may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. The guidance is in response to an informal discussion letter issued by the EEOC last November that created significant commentary and conjecture.
The guidance explains that requiring a high school diploma for a position is not illegal. Employers may continue to have high school diploma requirements and, in the vast majority of cases, they will not have to make exceptions to them. However, according to the EEOC, if an applicant tells an employer she cannot meet this requirement because of a disability, an employer may have to allow her to demonstrate the ability to do the job in some other way. This may include considering work experience in the same or similar jobs, or allowing her to demonstrate performance of the job’s essential functions.
The guidance clarifies that the ADA only protects someone whose disability makes it impossible for him to get a diploma. It would not protect someone who simply decided not to get a high school diploma. The employer can require the applicant to demonstrate, perhaps through appropriate documentation, that he has a disability and that the disability actually prevents her from meeting the high school diploma requirement.
As the guidance points out, a high school diploma requirement could also run afoul of other employment discrimination laws. The U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1971 that a high school diploma requirement was discriminatory because it had a disparate impact on African Americans who had high school diploma rates far lower than whites in the relevant geographical area, and because the requirement was not job-related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity.
You can read the entire guidance, which is written in question-and-answer format, here.