On January 24, 2023, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released new guidance to help employers comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act’s (“ADA”) requirements for job applicants and employees with hearing impairments.  The guidance titled “Hearing Disabilities in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” replaces a May 7, 2014 resource titled “Deafness and Hearing Impairments in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” and provides an overview of the ADA’s requirements for hearing impaired individuals, including the definition of a disability, pre- and post-job offer disability-related questions, and providing reasonable accommodations in the workplace.

Job Offers

The EEOC instructs employers not to ask applicants whether they have hearing conditions or treatments related to a hearing condition prior to making a conditional job offer.  Additionally, employers should not require applicants to undergo medical examinations prior to making a conditional job offer.

Additionally, employers should not withdraw a job offer if the applicant with a hearing disability is able to perform the essential functions of a job, with or without reasonable accommodation, and without posing a “direct threat” to the health or safety of the applicant or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced through a reasonable accommodation.

Not all disability-related questions or medical examinations are prohibited but, navigating such circumstances and engaging in the interactive process with applicants and employees may require a more nuanced approach.  It is recommended that employers consult counsel to discuss these situations. 

Reasonable Accommodations

The ADA generally requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants and employees with disabilities.  Accommodations vary depending on the needs of the individual with a disability and not all individuals with a hearing condition will need an accommodation or require the same accommodations.

Examples of accommodations for applicants and employees with hearing disabilities may include:  (i) providing assistance with sign language; (ii) offering note-taking assistance; and  (iii) making work area adjustments such as moving desks away from noise or providing emergency alarms with strobe lights.  Development of new technologies has expanded the list of potential accommodations that also may include:  (iv) assistive listening devices; (v) augmentative communication devices that translate verbal communications to sign language or a simulated voice; (vi) communication access real-time translation (CART) translating voice into text; and (vii) assistive technology, such as hearing aid-compatible telephone headsets and amplifiers, captioned or text telephones, and assistive software.  The EEOC provides more specific examples in its new guidance. 

Employers should be aware of the EEOC’s updated guidance and review their policies for providing reasonable accommodations with employees and applicants with disabilities.  Employers also should ensure recruiting and hiring staff are properly trained on these policies and periodically assess the accommodations made for any employees with such needs.