Although it may not be a hot-button topic, employment discrimination against deaf and hard-of-hearing job applicants is a very real problem. These individuals can experience serious struggles trying to get jobs, and once they are hired, it is not unusual for them to be treated unfairly. A study by the National Deaf Center showed that although 72 percent of hearing people were employed, just 48 percent of deaf people had stable jobs. According to Medical News Today, hearing loss, hearing impairment, and deafness are defined as the complete or partial inability to hear sounds. Although some hearing-impaired individuals can communicate satisfactorily through lip-reading and sign language, others find it more difficult. Still, employment discrimination is against the law and deaf job applicants and employees must have their rights protected just like any other working individual.
Have There Been Any Hearing Discrimination Lawsuits?
In 2020, two lawsuits were filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on this very topic. A Subway sandwich franchise in Indiana was sued because they rejected a hard-of-hearing applicant who was qualified for a sandwich-maker position. Subway’s reasoning was that there was a communication concern based on that applicant’s speaking and hearing. EEOC claimed that the company’s actions violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990; this law prohibits employment discrimination based on a person’s disability.
A Washington State Dollar Tree was the focus of another EEOC lawsuit that year. According to the complaint, a manager mistreated a job applicant during an interview. Although the applicant wore visible hearing aids and identified himself as deaf, the manager spoke in a way that made it difficult for the applicant to understand the questions. Also, the manager failed to answer the applicant’s questions about any possible accommodations that would allow him to complete his work responsibilities if he was hired. The manager’s actions were also contrary to regulations mandated by the ADA, which make it illegal to ignore a hearing-impaired of deaf applicant’s request for these kinds of accommodations. Both EEOC lawsuits emphasize that employers must make reasonable accommodations in accordance with the ADA.
How Can Deaf Job Applicants Apply for Jobs?
Applying for jobs is always challenging, and even more so when it is harder to communicate. Deaf applicants find that they must work harder than their competitors to show their worth through the application and interview process. Some need interpreters, and interviewers might not always cooperate. If they do not have one on staff, they might be concerned about hiring someone who is fluent in sign language.
It might be best to start an application without letting the potential employer know about the hearing loss or deafness. A personal relay service phone number can be put on a resume; this looks just like a real voice number and does not indicate that the applicant has a hearing issue. Remember, applicants are not required to disclose any information about deafness in an interview process and employers are not allowed to ask questions about medical conditions at this time.
Employers are also prohibited from rescinding job offers after learning that applicants have hearing loss or deafness. If it is determined that the individual can perform the job without presenting a serious risk to other employees, there should be no barrier to them being hired. Deaf and hearing-impaired job applicants and employees also have the right to request reasonable accommodations to help them perform their work and cannot be fired for doing so.
Are There Other Laws that Apply?
Although employers cannot ask about applicant and employee medical conditions, they are permitted to ask questions about an applicant’s ability to perform the job’s essential responsibilities, with or without reasonable accommodation. They may need to know if the applicant has good communication skills; if they can respond to instructions in a loud, fast-paced environment; and if an applicant is able to meet the legally mandated safety requirements needed to perform the work.
Once a job offer is made, employers are permitted in inquire about the applicant’s general health and a disability. In some cases, they may require medical examinations, but this is acceptable only when all applicants for the same kind of job are treated equally. This means that they are asked the same questions and take the same examinations. Should the employer learn about the hearing issue after the applicant is hired, the employer is permitted to ask general questions such as what the specific hearing limitations are and if reasonable accommodations are needed. In essence, the questions should be related to job performance.
How Can Supervisors Help Deaf Employees?
Even when hearing-impaired and deaf individuals land jobs, they can face workplace discrimination and other forms of mistreatment at work. Other workers may not understand how to communicate with them, so the employees can end up feeling isolated. Colleagues and managers can help by establishing eye contact, being patient, and speaking normally. If masks are being worn, employers may be able to provide clear ones that can be seen through.
Like all employees, workers with hearing challenges make mistakes, but it could be more likely that those errors will be blamed on the impairment. However, this is not always the root cause, and supervisors and co-workers need to realize that. The Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center calls discrimination against deaf and hearing-impaired individuals audism and considers it as a form of oppression that prevents these people from reaching their true potentials. Supervisors and employers should be encouraged to consider hiring disabled applicants and to provide them with the reasonable accommodations they need to contribute in positive ways to their companies. One example of this kind of accommodation would be to include an interpreter at an important meeting; this could be done in person or online.
What Should I Do about Workplace Discrimination?
Deaf and hearing-impaired job applicants and employees are entitled to certain protections under the law, and acts of employer discrimination could be in violation of the ADA. Applicants are considered to be qualified if they are able to perform essential job functions with or without reasonable accommodations. The EEOC protects these individuals in their job searches and after they have been hired. If you wish to file a lawsuit against an employer though, you must file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC first, either through the mail or online. The time limit for doing this is 180 days after the alleged discrimination occurred.
To file an EEOC employment discrimination complaint, you can contact them by phone, mail, or in person. This can be done at EEOC field offices, but it is best to contact them first since you may need to make an appointment. Their main number is 1-800-669-4000, and they will be able to contact one of their field offices to start the process. If you send a letter, they will probably contact you for the details.
Once the charge is received, EEOC might want to initiate a mediation process to fix the problem. Should this not prove successful, the case may go to an investigator. EEOC may end up trying to settle with the employer, but this does not always work out. They could decide to file a lawsuit, but this too may not happen if they believe there was no discrimination. When this occurs, they may give the complainant a Notice of Right to Sue.
Delaware County Employment Discrimination Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C., Protect Disabled Job Applicants and Employees
Everyone is entitled to equal treatment when applying for jobs and while working, but this is not always the case. If you believe that you are being treated unfairly and illegally, reach out to the experienced Delaware County employment discrimination lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. We will be your advocate, ensuring that your legal rights are always protected. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.