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Can I require applicants to have a high school diploma?

Question: Can I require applicants to have a high school diploma?

Answer from Rachel, SHRM-SCP: We recommend that you not require applicants to have a high school diploma unless you can demonstrate that the requirement is job-related and consistent with business necessity. Requiring a diploma when it's unrelated to the position can be discriminatory under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

While federal law doesn't explicitly prohibit employers from requiring applicants to have a high school diploma, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has cautioned employers about the use of such policies. According to EEOC guidance, “a high school diploma requirement is discriminatory under Title VII if it has a disparate impact on a protected group and is not job-related and consistent with business necessity.” A disparate impact occurs when a policy or rule appears to be neutral but results in a disproportionate impact on people within a protected class (e.g., race, sex, or religion). Diploma requirements may also violate the ADA if they tend to screen out individuals with disabilities when a diploma isn't required to do the job.

When assessing the qualifications of job applicants, it’s best to focus on essential job functions and previous experience.

*** Please note this does not constitute legal advice and does not address state or local law. ***

Rachel has a background as an HR Generalist in a variety of industries. After completing a B.A. in Psychology, she began her HR background in employee relations, staffing and payroll. During her free time, Rachel is an avid kayaker and plans to visit every National Park during her lifetime.


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