ADA Hiring and High School Diploma Job Requirements

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), just recently issued a series of Questions and Answers which clarified an earlier EEOC informal discussion letter about ADA requirements for employers who require applicants to have high school diplomas to qualify for certain jobs. 

That November 17, 2011 letter opined that an employer who made high school graduate a job requirement may well violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), unless the employer could demonstrate that the requirement was 1) job related and 2) consistent with business necessity.  The earlier EEOC letter also said that to the extent a learning disability prevented the job applicant from meeting the high school graduation requirement, the employer might also have to have to make an individualized determination whether a particular applicant could perform the essential functions of the job, with or without an accommodation, before the employer could deny the applicant a job on the basis of the failure to complete high school. 

Now, the EEOC has clarified that its earlier letter did not make it illegal, per se, for businesses to require a high school diploma for a job.  Rather, according to the EEOC’s recent Q & A discussion, an employer may have to allow someone who says that a disability has prevented him from obtaining a high school diploma to demonstrate qualification for the job in some other way.  The new Q & A from the EEOC also made clear that its earlier opinion letter did not create protection in the ADA for people who do not graduate from high school, unless a disability as defined by the ADA was the reason that it was impossible for the job applicant to obtain a high school diploma.  The Q & A’s issued by the EEOC also stated that an employer is not required to hire a person who is unable to graduate from high school because of a disability.  The new EEOC Q & A’s do provide that as with any job criteria which may tend to screen out persons with disabilities, an employer who requires a high school education may have to evaluate whether there exists an ADA reasonable accommodation to allow a learning disabled person to perform the essential functions of the job. According to the EEOC:

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, if an applicant tells an employer she cannot meet the 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 employer can require the applicant to demonstrate, perhaps through appropriate documentation, that she has a disability and that the disability actually prevents her from meeting the high school diploma requirement.

The complete text of the EEOC’s Q & A can be found here.

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