Employees with Hearing Disability: Know Your Rights

Editor’s Note:  Job-related issues are a major area of concern for people with hearing loss everywhere.  In this article, Lisa Klop of Sivantos shares important information that is valuable even for those not covered by the American ADA.  

 

 

by Lisa Klop, Au.D.*

 

When you have a disability you are likely to find yourself in situations where you have to serve as your own advocate. This is especially true if you have hearing disability and are still an active member of the workforce.  While many federal and state laws have been established to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination and harassment in the workplace, ultimately it’s up to you to make sure you have access to all the resources, opportunities, and accommodations to which you’re entitled. Understanding your hearing disability rights is the first step in effectively advocating on your own behalf and enjoying a long, productive career in spite of any hearing loss.


Where to find information on your hearing disability rights

 

The most comprehensive disability legislation in the U.S. is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA applies to private sector companies with 15 or more employees, as well as federal employers. Employers are required to know what the ADA mandates and ensure that management complies with its edicts. Employers are also required to post a notice describing the provisions of the Act in an easily-viewable location on premises, so you should be able to find it in your work location ― if not, notify your human resources department.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) also has a webpage dedicated to the ADA and how it applies to hearing loss in the workplace.


What you need to know when looking for a job

 

The ADA does not require you to disclose your hearing impairment or use of assistive listening devices, like hearing aids, and a prospective employer should not contact your references or other third party and ask about your hearing. If you choose to reveal your hearing difficulties the employer cannot  discriminate against you or refuse to make a reasonable accommodation for your hearing disability as needed during the interview process (e.g., requesting to be interviewed in a quiet room).

However, an employer is not required to hire you if your hearing disability makes it impossible to perform the essential functions of a position for which you’re applying. For example, if you interview to be a court stenographer, but have profound hearing loss that makes it impossible to catch everything others say, an employer can reasonably argue against hiring you because you cannot perform a task fundamental to the job.


After you’ve been hired

 

Some jobs require new employees to answer questions about their health or receive examinations before beginning work. While you can be asked if you have hearing disability (so long as that is a standard question asked of all new employees) you cannot be required to take a hearing test unless hearing well is a fundamental requirement (e.g. safety reasons) of the job. If you wear hearing aids, you should be allowed to keep them on during a test, unless the employer can provide a compelling reason why you wouldn’t be able to wear hearing aids if you get the actual job.

Once you are regularly employed

If hearing disability develops or worsens while you’re employed, you may have to inform your employer if your condition requires new accommodations. For example, if talking on the telephone is a fundamental requirement of your job, you have the right to ask for a hearing aid compatible phone or other assistive listening device. Or you might request a transfer to a different position requiring less phone use, assuming there is an opening for which you are qualified.

If you experience discrimination because of your hearing disability, contact an employment attorney for assistance as soon as possible. Discrimination can take many forms, including the following:

 

  • Being regularly passed over for promotions
  • Constant harassment by a co-worker, supervisor, or others because of your hearing difficulties
  • Being paid less than others with your equivalent position and skills
  • Being terminated from your job without an attempt to reasonably accommodate your needs

 

An employment lawyer can evaluate your situation, determine if your employer did indeed violate your rights, and assist you in filing a charge of discrimination on the basis of disability, and if necessary file a lawsuit against your employer.

Employment law, disability discrimination, and your rights are complex subjects. The information in this article is provided as only an overview to give you an idea of what you may face in the workplace, and to remind you that you do have many rights and protections under the law. Remember, wearing hearing aids on the job can alleviate the stress and aggravation of missing important information shared at meetings, during conference calls, or when receiving directions from your manager. Don’t let untreated hearing disability prevent you from keeping pace with your co-workers and others in the highly-competitive job market.

 

*Lisa Klop, Au.D. is an Educational Specialist for Sivantos, Inc. She is responsible for training customers and sales staff on the company’s current technology and products. She conducts training sessions in customers’ offices, remotely, via webinars, and at regional and national events.  Areas of particular expertise include hearing assistive technology and the fitting of kids and teens. Prior to joining Sivantos (then Siemens Hearing Instruments) in 2012, she operated a private dispensing practice for 6 years.  Other clinical experience includes hospital, ENT and non-profit clinics.

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

17 Comments

  1. I have the ringing in my ears, hearing loss I wear aids, I’m a custodian in a public school system. My boss is the principal of the school, we do quite a bit of texting on cell phones. Sometimes she gets frustrated because I don’t hear quick enough and her actions are very hurtful and awful especially with other coworkers around. I recently told her I was frustrated because of her actions to me and she said that’s her frustration too. I’m tried of being treated like this how can I make her stop? I had a high temperature as a baby and it damaged the nerve in my ears. It’s so hurtful when she treats me like that in front of others.

  2. Can an employer make you wear a badge that says ” Hard of Hearing” on the sales floor ? or a a badge that says ” Deaf” are they discriminating when they say they want to make a badge to let the customers know you have a hearing problem?

  3. When I was hired 9 years ago I could hear perfectly. I began losing my hearing in 2015. When meeting at a restaurant with dozens of people around my supervisor began ridiculing me for not being able to hear. When I began losing my hearing I notified him immediately. That’s when the ridicule began. It became a joke for everyone. My supervisor laughs about it and screams, “Can you hear me now?” It’s embarrassing and demeaning. I feel my supervisor is cruel and ignorant. I bought hearing aids, but after two years they no longer worked, and the ridicule got to be worse. I have no idea what to do. Does anyone have any idea what I can do?

    1. Joe, the hearing aids should not have stopped working after 2 years. Please visit your hearing healthcare provider to discuss. I don’t know where you live, but I woudl suggest contacting your local hearing loss consumer group such as HLAA. Also, does your company have a human resources person you can talk to about the workplace abuse?

    2. I know how you feel and I too have lost my hearing but only in one ear due to brain meningitis. I feel I can hear but my problem is not knowing if its coming from the left or right side. So I tend to turn automatically towards the good ear and its embarrasing when I find myself spinning all the way around just to answer coworkers, thats on the otherside of me. I wish they was something I can wear to let me know if the sound is on my right/left side. Sort of directional aide. Who knows… Maybe I’ll invent something. People can be very rude and sometimes humiliating, but I too can play that same game. *Hear only what I want*. As long as I can and you can do your job, we souldn’t be subjected as a target or teased. So, you are not alone.. I understand. As long as you perform your duty at work you don’t need to hear nasty comments. I understand….

  4. A employee talks about me to other employees about my hearing making me the joke of the day. I ask this employee to call our supervisors since I can not hear on the phone he reply to me is maybe I need new hearing aides or change my battery what can I do to stop this employee from making me feel so ashamed

  5. I’m a disabled veteran with sever tinnitus, it’s I’m my medical records. I’m hard at hearing and my boss had a meeting with everyone stating new things people will be fired for I guess and I didn’t here his 0 tolerance rule and I broke one of the rules and I know I messed up but I’ve never even been wrote up or even late I’m a lead on weekend shift. I got fired instantly but I honestly didn’t hear it. Is this allowed?

  6. What happens if your already employed as a federal employee and you passed your entrance hearing test, but fail your annually hearing test.

  7. I have a coworker who creates inconveniences and frustration because he can’t hear and he refuses to wear a hearing aid. If he doesn’t want to wear them, that’s his choice but I don’t feel like I should be inconvenienced as a result. I have to work harder because it’s not comfortable for him to wear them? Why is his comfort more important than mine? I have cancer and I have to wear a sleeve, but if I don’t want to wear it, I shouldn’t be able to not wear it and expect everyone else to accommodate me.

    1. Jayme, I would suggest that you speak to your supervisor about your having to pick up the slack for your coworker. Hearing loss is often misunderstood by those who don’t have it, and the management of your company, if they know about your co-worker’s hearing loss, may have assigned up other duties.

      1. I have the ringing in my ears, hearing loss I wear aids, I’m a custodian in a public school system. My boss is the principal of the school, we do quite a bit of texting on cell phones. Sometimes she gets frustrated because I don’t hear quick enough and her actions are very hurtful and awful especially with other coworkers around. I recently told her I was frustrated because of her actions to me and she said that’s her frustration too. I’m tried of being treated like this how can I make her stop? I had a high temperature as a baby and it damaged the nerve in my ears. It’s so hurtful when she treats me like that in front of others.

  8. If you have a coworker that has said that they cannot hear at times, turns up the volume on there phone so loud that it can be heard two isles over and when on the phone talks so loud that it is causing decreased productivity, to the point you cant hear yourself talking on the phone. It is increasing agitation and anxiety with the team. Can HR request the employee get a hearing test so that the employee can address the possible hearing loss?

  9. They still get away with it. I was hired and doing a fine job, but when I didn’t hear something over the phone, the employer got pissed. One day I was sitting at my desk and when not looking he took a ruler and slapped my desk causing me to jump and he said * I see you hear that* and just laughed and made other employees laugh. I was let go w/o notice! I tried to fight it w/o lawyer with the labor bureau and the company won.

  10. Interesting article but one misleading passage:
    “However, an employer is not required to hire you if your hearing disability makes it impossible to perform the essential functions of a position for which you’re applying.”
    An employer is not required to hire you under any circumstances and is not required to give any explanation.
    Most advise not to disclose hearing loss in a resume (you may never get in the front door) and if necessary to disclose it in the interview, to put a carefully thought out positive spin on why your hearing loss is not only not a disadvantage but in fact an indication of your suitability for the job. (It shows that you are technologically savvy, creative in dealing with setbacks, etc.).
    HLAA has a great Employment Toolkit on its website: http://www.hearingloss.org/sites/default/files/docs/HLAA_Employment_Toolkit.pdf.
    Required reading for anyone in the workplace with a hearing loss.

  11. Easier said then done. You are full of ut. Many of us have tried when you live in a small community everyone knows you. I have reapplied at the same place for 3 years i am more then qualified . nothing no responce same crap all the time . the goverment does nothing all talk

    1. You are so right about that Louanne. I have had trouble all my adult life. When I went to collage, they told me that they would accommodate me. I got to sit on the front row. UNTIL, high school students started coming in to take credits. The teacher put them all on the front row. Moved me back to the back of the room. When I told her I couldn’t hear/understand her, she said it wasn’t her fault I couldn’t hear. Then she tried to get me to skip taking Access and Excel because she didn’t think I could get the hang of it..I made 100 on my test and graduated with a 3.53. Not bad for a deaf person. And the employers, what a joke. These people from wherever thinks we can do something about discrimination? Don’t work that way. There is no way to prove you lost your job because you couldn’t hear..NO WAY!

      1. yes , there is, you need to send your self an email of every incident , every time it happens, a paper trail, keep a copy of your complaints to HR and then , you have a memorable of every single incident date and time, i am legally deaf and just got fired, ill be seeing them in court !

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