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“While such a requirement is routinely included by many employers, a deeper analysis may demonstrate that a lesser educational requirement might suffice,” she said.

Some worry that the EEOC’s letter could place less emphasis on a diploma in the workplace, but the push in Congress has been in the opposite direction. House Republicans sought late last year to reform the federal unemployment-benefit system by requiring recipients of aid who do not have high school degrees to be “enrolled and making satisfactory progress in classes” toward a General Education Development certificate or equivalent.

That proposal was not part of the final deal that Congress approved to extend a payroll-tax holiday for two months, but Republicans say they intend to renew their call for the reform this year.

Some corporate counsels are advising clients to adjust the way they approach the hiring process.

“Employers are wise to evaluate whether a high school diploma really is necessary to perform the essential functions of any job for which it is being required,” the Employer Law Report advised in a blog post by Lisa Whittaker, a lawyer with the Porter Wright firm, which has represented business clients for more than 150 years.

“Even in those situations where the high school diploma requirement can be justified, employers will still need to consider” whether a “reasonable accommodation” could be provided to allow a disabled person without a diploma to perform a given job.