New Guidance for Hearing Disabilities in the Workplace & The ADA

If you are an employee with a hearing condition covered under the ADA, such as deafness or difficulty of hearing, your employer or potential employer may have specific obligations to you.

These protections have changed and expanded over time, and they may affect your rights both in your current workplace and during your next job interview. 

New EEOC Guidance

Recently, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency tasked with enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the workplace, issued new guidance to employers, explaining how the ADA applies to job applicants and employees who are deaf, hard of hearing or have other hearing conditions.

Discrimination against employees with hearing conditions can happen in many ways. An employer may discriminate by subjecting you to a workplace policy based on unfounded assumptions that employees with hearing conditions will cause safety hazards, increase employment costs, or have difficulty communicating. 

If your employer promotes harassment of employees with hearing conditions or retaliates against those who have exercised their rights under the ADA, they may have further violated the Act’s provisions. 

When Can an Employer Ask Questions About a Hearing Condition?

Generally, an employer generally may not ask an applicant about obvious impairments. Even if an applicant who has voluntarily disclosed a hearing condition, the employer may not ask any questions about the condition’s nature or severity, when the condition began, or how the individual manages the condition. 

However, if an applicant has an obvious impairment or has voluntarily disclosed the existence of an impairment, and the employer reasonably believes that the applicant will require an accommodation to complete the application process, or to perform the job because of the condition, the employer may ask whether the applicant will need an accommodation and what type.

What Types of Reasonable Accommodations May Employees with Hearing Disabilities Need?

The type of accommodation needed may vary based on the individual, the nature of the disability, and the type of work to be performed. For instance, some individuals may require sign language interpreters while others require assisted listening devices. As a requesting employee, you may provide the employer with what they believe would be the best reasonable accommodations, but the employer is allowed to choose a different accommodation, so long as it is reasonable. 

How Should an Employer Handle Safety Concerns?

The EEOC guidance warns employers to avoid acting on “the basis of myths, fears, or stereotypes about hearing conditions” when handling safety concerns. Employers should evaluate an individual on the individual’s skills, knowledge, experience, and how the hearing condition affects the individual.” 

An employer may only exclude an individual with a hearing disability from a job for safety reasons when the individual poses a direct threat based on assessment guidelines from the EEOC. If there is not a direct threat, your employer may not exclude you from a job.

How Can an Employer Prevent Harassment?

The ADA prohibits harassment, or offensive conduct, based on disability just as other federal laws prohibit harassment based on race, sex, color, national origin, religion, age, and genetic information. Your employer should make clear to all employees that they will not tolerate harassment based on disability or on any other protected basis. 

Your employer should emphasize that harassment is prohibited and that employees should promptly report such conduct to a manager. 

If there is a report of harassment, your employer should immediately conduct a thorough investigation and take appropriate action promptly. 

Contact the experienced employment attorneys at Potomac Legal Group to discuss your reasonable accommodation or harassment claims.

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