Legality of Requiring a College Degree for a Clerical Position

The lead person in our company only wants us to hire college graduates for any office position.  His thinking is that, with the economy the way it is, we can get overqualified people.  In addition, he likes to hire people that could eventually be promoted.  We recently posted a job opening answering phones and taking orders at our front desk.  The job description stated that a college degree was required.  Someone who works for another company in HR says this could lead to problems.  He suggested we state that a college degree is preferred.  I cannot find any laws or written opinions on why it would be discriminatory to require a degree for a position that isn't the type of job that necessitates a college degree.  Any advice?

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  • The thought by the EEOC is that it could lead to disparate impact. For example, are those with degrees all men and those without all women?

     The EEOC has a Informal Discussion Letter that concerns the requirement for a Masters degree that states:

    "One of your Directors suggested that a strict master’s degree requirement for Public Health Directors would result in a significantly disproportionate exclusion of protected racial minorities. If someone could show—most likely using statistical evidence—that the strict requirement had such an adverse effect, and that the effect was significant, adopting the requirement could subject [the employer] to liability for disparate impact discrimination unless (a) [the employer] could show that the requirement is job-related and consistent with business necessity, and (b) the plaintiff could not show that a less discriminatory requirement would have been equally effective in predicting job performance.

    [The employer] could show that a strict master’s degree requirement is job-related and consistent with business necessity by showing that it is “necessary to the safe and efficient performance” of the Public Health Director job...employer might nevertheless be liable if there is an available alternative that would equally effectively meet its business objectives." from EEOC Title VII: Disparate Impact of Education Requirements (if you google that, you should be able to find the whole thing)

     I've underlined the part that I would be concerned with...Your best bet is to put preferred rather than required, so you don't unintentially weed out those who are qualified that don't have a degree. Your job qualifications should always be matched back to the level of the actual job...not so much where you intend them to be promoted to.

     That said, I have not had good luck with overqualified candidates in very low positions....unless you have a very well-oiled career ladder than doesn't leave them in the admin position (phones and orders)  for very long...but that in turn means high turnover for the admin position.   Overqualified individuals also tend to be looking to leave quickly if they find something better. And you have to be concerned with them possibly thinking they know more than those who have more experience but less education.

     

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