In response to the considerable discussion resulting from an EEOC informal discussion letter released at the end of last year, the federal agency has posted on its website a question-and-answer guidance document explaining the relationship between high school diploma job requirements and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The guidance explains that the letter, dated November 17, 2011, does not make it illegal for a business to require that applicants have a high school diploma. However, an employer may be required to permit someone who says she has a disability that prevented her from getting a high school diploma show by other means that she is qualified for the job. For example, the employer may consider work experience in the same or similar jobs, or permit the applicant to demonstrate performance of the essential functions of the job. The employer can also require the applicant to demonstrate, perhaps through documentation, that she has a disability and that the disability actually prevents her from meeting the diploma requirement.
The Q&A also clarifies that “the ADA only protects someone whose disability makes it impossible for him or her to get a diploma.” The statute does not protect an individual who simply decided not to get a high school diploma.
Moreover, even if an applicant with a disability is able to demonstrate the ability to do the job through a means other than possession of a high school diploma, the employer is not prohibited from choosing the best qualified person for the job — the employer does not have to give preference to the person with a disability over an individual who can perform the job better.