Empowering Employees and Employers Alike to Create Inclusive Work Environments
As of January 24, 2023, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has updated its guidance on correctly handling people with hearing disabilities at work under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This updated guidance is essential for employers looking to create a more inclusive and accessible workplace for employees and job applicants with hearing disabilities.
So, what does this new guidance entail? Here are the key takeaways:
When can an employer ask about hearing disabilities at work?
When can you, as the employer, ask an applicant or employee about a hearing condition? Generally, you should not ask if an individual has a hearing impairment, nor are they obligated to disclose it. The EEOC guidance states that you should limit any questions to the applicant’s ability to perform the position’s essential functions, with or without reasonable accommodation. However, if an applicant or employee voluntarily discloses a hearing condition, you must keep that information confidential.
Next, let’s talk about reasonable accommodations. Examples of accommodations for people with hearing disabilities include providing sign language interpreters, real-time captioning, or using assistive listening devices. Engaging in an interactive process with employees is important to determine what accommodations may be necessary and feasible. You, as the employer, should be proactive in creating an environment where employees feel comfortable asking for reasonable accommodations when needed.
How can you handle safety concerns about applicants and employees with hearing disabilities? You may exclude an individual with a hearing disability from a job for safety reasons only when the individual poses a “direct threat,” meaning significant harm that reasonable accommodations can’t mitigate. Be careful not to make assumptions about an individual’s abilities based solely on their hearing disability.
Take steps to prevent harassment based on a hearing disability or any other disability. This includes taking prompt action when harassment is reported or observed, and training employees to recognize and report harassment. Communicate a policy that harassment of any kind is not tolerated. This includes jokes, slurs, name-calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, mockery, insults, and interference with work performance.
By creating a more inclusive and accessible workplace for individuals with hearing disabilities, you can attract and retain talented individuals while fulfilling their legal obligations. You can be proactive in providing reasonable accommodations, assessing safety concerns, and preventing harassment based on hearing disability or any other disability.