The EEOC released an informal letter dated November 17, 2011 answering a question posed regarding high-school diplomas as they relate to job requirements.
The issue: if a job applicant was prevented from receiving a high-school diploma because of a condition that would qualify as a “disability” under the ADA, may an employer automatically exclude the applicant from consideration if the position requires a diploma?
The EEOC, in answering, provides a helpful framework for this type of issue:
Thus, 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.
Even if the diploma requirement is job related and consistent with business necessity, the employer may still have to determine whether a particular applicant whose learning disability prevents him from meeting it can perform the essential functions of the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation. It may do so, for example, by considering relevant work history and/or by allowing the applicant to demonstrate an ability to do the job’s essential functions during the application process. If the individual can perform the job’s essential functions, with or without a reasonable accommodation, despite the inability to meet the standard, the employer may not use the high school diploma requirement to exclude the applicant. However, the employer is not required to prefer the applicant with a learning disability over other applicants who are better qualified.
Because it’s only an information letter, it doesn’t provide a legally enforceable standard. But it’s always helpful to understand the reasoning behind the EEOC’s analysis to guide your conduct–and to stay out of trouble!