Bryan Caplan  

Legality of Credentialism Bleg

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I'm looking for sources about the legality of hiring on the basis of educational credentials.  If you've got any pointers for me, please share them in the comments.

P.S. Evidence on what firms can safely do in practice is much more valuable to me than abstract legal analysis. :-)

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COMMENTS (7 to date)
Bostonian writes:

A recent EEOC letter questioned the common employer practice of requiring a high school diploma:
EEOC's Informal Discussion Letter Merits Re-Evaluation of High School Diploma Requirements

BZ writes:

Gosh, I had to read the question several times to make sure I had it right.

I haven't seen more than 1 or 2 resumes in my entire life that didn't at least mention education attainment. Interviews and evaluations afterwards, often with a Human Resource agent present, routinely discussed such aspects. Something as ubiquitous in the hiring process as "where did you go to school" and "what did you study" simply can't be illegal, right?

Krishnan writes:

Griggs versus Duke Power comes to mind - lots of gobbledegook - but to be specific, I would anticipate someone using "disparate impact" theory to sue employers who use educational credentials to hire/promote - So, my guess is that any hiring by any firm can in principle be considered illegal unless it gets challenged and the courts rule it otherwise (yes, illegal till someone sues and the courts agree that it was legal -)

JKB writes:

Interesting, this doesn't apply directly to the private sector but the laws governing Federal General Schedule employees prohibits the use of education (See chapter 4)

Whether at the high school or post high school level, 5 U.S.C. ยง3308 prohibits requiring education for positions in the competitive service, unless OPM has determined that the duties of a scientific, technical, or professional position cannot be performed by an individual who does not have the prescribed minimum education.

JKB writes:

Found this law office brief on the EEOC letter regarding diploma requirements.

Seems there is a whole lot of misconception out there. You can't require a diploma or a degree unless there is no other reasonable way for the individual to have gotten the skills. It doesn't seem that a lawsuit or EEOC complaint can work unless the applicant denied is part of a protected group.

So the question is, what unique, articulable skills would your average liberal arts major possess that would justify a BA requirement for applicants? That raises the question of how we determine a graduate is in a job that doesn't require a college degree when high tech CEO doesn't really require a college degree, e.g., Steve Jobs, Bill Gates.

Jscheppers writes:

I find that many of the education requirements are embedded in licensing requirements, so there is indirect application of educational requirements. In many case a difficult work around is provided for those without the standard credential, but a degree from an accredited institution is a common requirement in getting professional licenses.

As for the labor requirements that require any educational requirement really be needed for the job, this seems to be to be a fair a straight forward rule. We have had a history of discrimination. When a seemingly neutral rule has a disparate impact on a protected class, the employer is required to demonstrate the requirement is a real requirement for the job. While this can be applied in many arbitrary and capricious ways, placing a check on silly job requirements does not seem unreasonable.

Bryan Willman writes:

What I have seen in common practice, in a place that in general didn't care.

First, they required high school degrees (sometime in the '80s) because the overwhelming majority of non high-school grads couldn't do the work. It would be easy to defend, as in "well, 3 non HS grads worked out, and 400 others didn't."

Second, they required a comp sci or equivalent degree (physics, math), or some variant of commensurate experience. Again, it was about weeding out huge numbers of people with no particular skill in the topics at hand.

Third, when hiring green card applicants, one is required to apply for a comparable US citizen (or current green card holder) - and the standard procedure is make the desired properties match what the applicant has. This works really well if people who show up with such skills are hired in addition to the green card applicant.

Note that this was a place that also used all sorts of tests, all very much designed to discover if you could do the job. They were very very "can you do this job" focused.

So far as I know none of that caused any serious legal trouble in the 80s or 90s. Can't say since.

There CAN be a "group selection" effect for some jobs that you never get around. Consider the NFL - you want to be a left tackle? You have to be one of the biggest/fastest people on Earth who want to play football - probably in the top 32. So by nature, with no particular intentional discrimination, there will be no women left tackles in the NFL.

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