The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released an informal letter on its website warning employers that requiring job applicants to have a high school diploma may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC states that if a workplace requires applicants to meet certain qualification standards or selection criteria, the employer must demonstrate that the standards are relevant and necessary for performing the job.
If an employer adopts a high school diploma requirement for a job, and that requirement “screens out” an individual who is unable to graduate because of a learning disability that meets the ADA’s definition of “disability,” the employer may not apply the standard unless it can demonstrate that the diploma requirement is job related and consistent with business necessity. The employer will not be able to make this showing, for example, if the functions in question can easily be performed by someone who does not have a diploma.
–EEOC, discussion of employer qualifications
Such a stance is not uncharacteristic of the EEOC, the federal organization responsible for bringing civil suits against employers who violate U.S. Civil Rights and ADA Laws. However, backlash against the EEOC’s discussion of doing away with the potentially irrelevant qualification has many in an uproar. Critics say that not requiring a high school diploma may result in a lack of incentive for some students to finish high school and obtain a diploma.
Peggy Mastroianni, legal counsel of the EEOC, disputes the criticism by saying: “No, we don’t think the regulation would discourage people from obtaining high school diplomas,” “People are aware that they need all the education they can get.”
Even if lower graduation rates are an intended result of no longer requiring diplomas for certain jobs, the incentivizing of one group is definitely not a justification for the oppression of another. Also, removing unnecessary qualifications, such as requiring a diploma where one is not needed, could positively impact many non-disabled Americans. There may be many individuals who are very capable of performing a job where having a diploma is a barrier to obtaining employment. For example, retail stores which require high school diplomas may be barring qualified applicants. Skills tests, which directly relate to functions needed for specific jobs, may be a more appropriate measure of ability.
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