I'm being denied a promotion because I don't have a college degree. Can my boss do that?
UPDATED: February 7, 2020
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Under employment law, there are a number of cases where education can legally be used to deny a promotion. "Minimum job requirements" is one. Because the employer is paying for a person to complete a job, under employment law, they are allowed to set the minimum requirements for that job. However, the requirement for a college degree cannot be one that has a disparate impact on a protected class of people, unless there is a bona fide need for the college degree to do the job.
Based on employment law and labor law, it's well within an employer's rights to set requirements for a job. These requirements can include a college degree or any other qualifications that he or she believes are necessary in order to perform the given tasks. However, the requirements have to be reasonable for the job and they cannot be discriminatory against a class of people based on race, gender, religion, or other protected status. Employment discrimination is against the law in the United States. For example, there have been cases in the past where a requirement for a high school diploma was challenged due to the fact that there were more minorities in the area who did not have such a diploma.
This isn't to say that every education requirement that happens to disqualify more minorities than non-minorities is prohibited. The key is whether or not the requirement is bona fide or legitimate. For example, in a situation where a certified nursing assistant, who has experience but no formal biology training, wants to move up to a position as a registered nurse who may be expected to assist with surgeries, install intravenous (IV) medications, or conduct other more complicated tasks, it would be impossible without a formal education. Thus, this is an example wherein the minimum job requirement is a legitimate one, regardless of whatever disparate impact it may have.
If you believe you are a victim of employment discrimination or you feel your employer has violated employment law or labor law, you should consult with a lawyer who can provide you with help and assistance.