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Approximately 15 percent of American adults report some trouble hearing. People with a variety of hearing conditions (including deafness, being hard of hearing, experiencing ringing in the ears, or having sensitivity to noise) may have disabilities that are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently published a new documentHearing Disabilities in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Actthat provides information on how the ADA applies to job applicants and employees with hearing disabilities. This document revises and renames “Deafness and Hearing Impairments in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” originally issued in May 2014.

This document, which is one of a series of question-and-answer documents addressing particular disabilities in the workplace, explains how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to job applicants and employees with hearing disabilities. In particular, this document explains:

– – when an employer may ask an applicant or employee questions about a hearing condition and how it should treat voluntary disclosures;
– – what types of reasonable accommodations applicants or employees with hearing disabilities may need;
– – how an employer should handle safety concerns about applicants and employees with hearing disabilities; and
– – how an employer can ensure that no employee is harassed because of a hearing disability or any other disability.

The ADA provides that individuals with disabilities include those who have “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities . . . , have a record (or history) of a substantially limiting impairment, or are regarded as having such an impairment.”

The ADA requires employers to provide adjustments or modifications – called reasonable accommodations – to enable applicants and employees with disabilities to enjoy equal employment opportunities unless doing so would be an undue hardship (that is, a significant difficulty or expense). Accommodations vary depending on the needs of the individual with a disability.

Not all applicants or employees with a hearing condition will need an accommodation or require the same accommodations.

However the new EEOC guidance provides some examples of accommodations that may be required, such as a sign language interpreter, assistive technology such as a hearing aid-compatible telephone headset, a telephone amplifier, and/or adapters for using a phone with hearing aids or cochlear implants, or altering an employee’s marginal (that is, non-essential) job functions.

Title I of the ADA covers employment by private employers with 15 or more employees as well as state and local government employers. Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act provides similar protections related to federal employment. In addition, most states have their own laws prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of disability.

Some of these state laws may apply to smaller employers and may provide protections in addition to those available under the ADA.