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.