If you’re a working person with any type of hearing disability, it may be worthwhile for you to review the new guidance for employers issued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
regarding employees who are deaf or hearing impaired. This can help you better understand your rights.
There hasn’t been a change to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC is simply hoping to clarify some issues so employers can better follow the law. This should make things better for those with hearing disabilities. However, too many individuals within organizations in positions of authority aren’t aware of the law or let their own misconceptions get in the way of following it.
One area the new guidance covers pertains to how much information employers are entitled to have about an employee’s hearing impairment. It also addresses the responsibility to keep that information private.
How much does an employer have a right to know?
Basically, employers are entitled to information about an employee’s disability on a “need-to-know” basis. If you need reasonable accommodations such as certain accessibility features on your computer, you have the right to request those, and employers are required to provide them as long as they don’t pose any undue hardship.
Typically, employers can’t require medical information or records they don’t require from all employees. They may ask for documentation that an employee needs a reasonable accommodation they’ve requested. That documentation doesn’t have to include information about the disability.
Employers can’t share information you provide with others unless necessary
You may provide as much information as you want to your employer. They, however, have an obligation not to share it with your co-workers. That includes information about your accommodations.
Your boss, for example, may have to tell the IT manager that you need special software on your computer. He can’t, however, gather people around and say, “We had to put some cool software on Ken’s computer so he can get closed captioning on his video conference calls. Come over and look at this!”
Likely, you’ve had to deal with inappropriate behavior from bosses, co-workers and even Human Resources “professionals” in the past. Often, it’s not worth taking action over apart from letting them know it makes you feel uncomfortable. Continued actions, however, indicate that your employer doesn’t know or care about your rights under the law. If you believe you’ve suffered workplace discrimination, it may help to get legal guidance to determine your best options.