EEOC: Requiring diploma may violate disabilities act

Requiring job applicants to have a high school diploma may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to a letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. From the Washington Times:

The “informal discussion letter” from the EEOC said an employer’s requirement of a high school diploma, long a standard criterion for screening potential employees, must be “job-related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity.”

Employers could run afoul of the ADA if their requirement of a high school diploma “‘screens out’ an individual who is unable to graduate because of a learning disability that meets the ADA’s definition of ‘disability,’” the EEOC explained.

While the letter doesn’t carry the force of law, employers can’t afford to ignore it, labor lawyers say. I doubt “help wanted” ads will say: “High school diploma required, unless you have a learning disability.” Perhaps they’ll be allowed to say “high school diploma preferred.”

Employers don’t like to hire dropouts — even those who’ve earned a GED — because they fear they’re unable to work within a system.

Some fear more high school students will drop out if they see employers no longer require a diploma for entry-level jobs.

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  1. Mark Roulo says:

    I doubt “help wanted” ads will say: “High school diploma required, unless you have a learning disability.” Perhaps they’ll be allowed to say “high school diploma preferred.”

    The help wanted ads won’t address this at all. The employers will interview, but not hire the people without the high school diploma. It is a bit of a waste of time on both sides to have an interview where the candidate will not be hired, but if this saves the employer a lawsuit, this is what will happen.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      If they are serious about this, the potential employer won’t be able to ask about diplomas period. Nor will she be able to say, “What high school did you graduate from?” or anything else that would give her prohibited information.

      • Mark Roulo says:

        Of course the employer won’t/can’t ask this. They’ll just note which resumes have a high school name and graduation date listed and which do not.

        • Roger Sweeny says:

          Again, if they are serious, this can be addressed, perhaps by something as simple as requiring employers to clearly display on any website or correspondence relating to employment, “This company does not discriminate on the basis of race …. high school or college graduation. Any application material containing such information will not be considered.”

          • Mark Roulo says:

            The current anti-discrimination in hiring laws don’t work this way. When I’m interviewing someone I can’t ask (a) religion, (b) age, (c) ethnic group, (d) marital status, (e) presence of children, (f) health. Probably lots of others that I forget right now.

            BUT … the law does not prohibit the applicant from volunteering this information (either on the resume or in person). If the law was that we could not hire people who volunteered this info, we’d wind up rejecting a *LOT* of candidates because avoiding these subject is *MUCH* harder than you might expect. The company I work for has a whole class on “Interviewing within the law.” What they teach is both (a) reasonable, and (b) totally non-obvious.

            Expecting the candidates to know this is a recipe for disaster.

          • Roger Sweeny says:


            I think we are largely in agreement. That’s why I keep prefacing, “If they are serious about this.” If Congress really wants to take age out of the hiring process, it can not just prohibit potential employers from asking about it. It can require potential employers to make clear to anyone applying for a job that it is prohibited information that the potential employee can’t supply either. They could do the same thing for high school degrees or anything else.

            It would make “interviewing within the law” considerably more difficult. But, of course, the interviewing process has been made considerably more difficult over the years. So far there has been little pushback to the increasing difficulty. Perhaps this is a bridge too far. Perhaps not.

  2. Actually, a student with an identified disability, who is then eligible for an IEP, special services, a modified curriculum, etc, may be likelier to graduate than a student who just doesn’t like school, has a challenging home life, prefers other activities (including non-formal learning activities) — you get the picture. Not to mention students with cognitive disabilities or multiple disabilities, who get an extra 4 years of high school and a diploma (although it is a modified diploma).

  3. If an employer cannot require a high school diploma, does that mean they cannot require a bachelor’s or graduate degree, either?

    • Since most bachelors and masters degrees are specialized, the employers would be able to require them for field-specific jobs.

      • Many (if not most) white collar job positions today state a bachelor’s degree requirement without listing a specific major/field. The last time I was a hiring manager, the responsibilities of the position did not actually require a college degree (I could’ve done that job just as well as straight out of high school). The degree and especially the prestige of the college was used as proxy for intelligence, since IQ tests are illegal. Not the most fair assumption since even if the group average for college graduates is higher than the group average for non-graduates, any particular individual may significantly deviate from the group average. But given the ban on using an IQ test, it’s a widespread practice.

        • Perhaps coming from a science/tech background my experience is different, but every job posting I’ve seen specifies a field of study or experience.
          Given that many white collar jobs require the ability to write and/or perform various math operations, it seems viable that an employer could argue a degree shows competency in these required areas.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      UC Davis has a nice writeup on the general guidelines for this:

  4. So, if no one can require a HS diploma for a job, then why does the gov’t require that kids go to school?

  5. georgelarson says:

    I would like to see the hiring process of the EEOC put under a microscope to see if they are currently meeting this standard.

  6. Walter E Wallis says:

    Wanted – senior legal associate – no experience necessary.

  7. Wanted: 1st grade teacher. Diploma/degree not required. Oh, wait….