The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued some new guidance for employers regarding applicants and employees who are deaf or hearing impaired. This guidance isn’t the result of a new law or even a new rule. It’s intended to clarify the current law to employers, employees and courts making decisions on Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) cases.
Here we’ll focus on some issues addressed in the guidance that still confuse both employers and employees around how much information a person is required to disclose about their hearing disability to request and receive the “reasonable accommodations” to which they’re entitled under the ADA. This typically applies to all disabilities.
What employers can and can’t ask applicants
Under the law, employers cannot ask potential employees about a disability or any medical condition unless and until they offer them a job. They can only ask them if they’re able to do the job.
For example, if a person is wearing hearing aids and the job involves wearing a headset, they can tell them what the job entails and ask if they can do that. They can’t ask if they can hear without their hearing aids, how “bad” their hearing is or anything about their condition. This is meant to help prevent biased hiring decisions (which we all know happen anyway).
After an employee is hired
An employer can ask some questions after hiring an employee. However, they don’t have carte blanche to ask how they lost their hearing, if their parents were deaf, how they know when someone is calling them, etc. Questions should be on a need-to-know basis. Further, employers can’t ask for any medical information they don’t require all employees to provide. In most cases, they can’t share what information they have about an employee’s disability with others.
Most people with a hearing (or any other) disability just want to be allowed the accommodations they need to do their job, to be given the same opportunities as others with their experience and skills and to work in an environment free of discrimination and harassment. If you have an employer that’s not providing that or if you believe they’re violating the ADA in other ways, learn more about your rights.