What is Deafness?

Deafness refers to a physical condition of a lack of sensitivity to sound. Deafness varies greatly among those with hearing impairments. For example, some individuals only lack hearing in one ear. Others are unable to distinguish tone. Most individuals, however, are able to hear or communicate with others in some manner, usually either through sign language or lip reading.

Ways in Which You Might be Discriminated Against Because of Deafness
  • Your employer does not allow you to miss work for medical appointments
  • Your employer does not accommodate your need to take a reasonable amount of time off of work
  • Your employer will not provide reasonable on-site accommodations for your disability
  • Your employer does not provide a sign language interpreter (and doing so would not place an undue burden on the employer)
How the Law Protects You if You are Deaf

To state a cause of action for disability discrimination, an employee must be disabled, regarded as disabled, or have a record of being disabled. The employee must then show that:

  • his or her disability results in physical limitations
  • that he or she can still perform the essential functions of the job (with or without reasonable accommodations)
  • and that the employer took some adverse action (such as not hiring, firing, or demoting the employee) on the basis of that disability

According to both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, an employer may not take any adverse action against an employee because of the employee's disability. An adverse employment action would include discriminatory hiring, firing, or lack of accommodation. Deafness is such a disability, deserving of protection from discrimination. Accordingly, an employer may not take any adverse action against an employee because of the employee's deafness. The employer also has an obligation to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee with deafness so as to allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. The law will protect an employee whose employer does not provide these necessary accommodations. While some jobs require (even by law) that employees have good hearing, many jobs can be accomplished by individuals with hearing problems. Employers have a responsibility to provide accommodations to deaf individuals, such as providing a sign language interpreter, so long as these accommodations do not place too much of a burden on the employer and workplace safety is not threatened.

Further Information