Economic Watch: EEOC Undermining Education

Article excerpt


Whatever else he said in his news conference on the economy last week, President Obama did acknowledge that the government must take care to avoid any policy that further crimps the desire of companies to hire more people. If the president really wants to end anti-employment policies, the best place to start would be his own Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The EEOC exists to guard against discrimination in the workplace. As Justice Clarence Thomas, a former EEOC chairman, once said, In a perfect world, you don't need EEOC [but] this is not a perfect world. Of all the federal agencies that deserve our support, EEOC is at the top of that list.

Unfortunately, a recent memo released by the EEOC raises serious doubts about the agency's current policies. According to its attorneys, companies risk federal prosecution under the Americans with Disabilities Act if they seek out job applicants with high-school diplomas.

More specifically, the EEOC attorneys assert that a company should not screen out applicants without high school diplomas, unless the company is ready to prove that the diploma requirement is consistent with business necessity. And even then, the company also must prove that an applicant without a diploma actually lacks the skills necessary to carry out the job's essential functions. The legal problem, the EEOC says, is discrimination against people with learning disabilities.

This astonishing requirement places an enormous burden on employers, who would either have to stop screening on the basis of diplomas, or go to great pains to prove that each applicant without a diploma is unqualified.

For example, an employer would have to investigate each job applicant to ascertain, on a case-by-case basis that may have to include a trial work period, whether the applicant can carry out the job's essential functions. After going to the trouble of figuring that out, an employee no longer has any need to use the diploma as a proxy.

The EEOC lawyers' policy does not just hurt employers; it undermines the nation's commitment to education. …