Is That Degree Really Necessary?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012
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Education requirements have long been a common, almost standard, part of job postings. But have you ever stopped to consider the lawfulness of this particular prerequisite? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has.

A recent EEOC letter opines that, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, "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 condition 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."

Further, the letter adds, employers shouldn't list a high-school diploma as a job requirement if the job functions could be performed by individuals without one.

The letter reflects the EEOC's focus on "what it considers systemic discrimination, as opposed to isolated civil-rights violations," says David James, shareholder and chair of the labor and employment practice group of Minneapolis-based law firm Nilan Johnson Lewis. "Consistent with this initiative, the EEOC has taken a particular interest in hiring criteria, from credit checks to arrest and criminal records to education requirements. [It] views such screening tools as having a disparate impact on minority applicants and other protected classes ... ."

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While it's unlikely that including education requirements in job postings will become illegal, the letter may spur more employers and HR professionals to re-examine why they include them, he says.

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