Interviewing a job applicant with a hearing disability

On Behalf of | Aug 4, 2023 | Business Law

When employers hear the word “disability,” they often think of mobility impairments. However, many types of conditions are considered disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Among them are hearing disabilities. 

Millions of Americans have some amount of hearing loss. That means employers need to be aware of what is and isn’t allowed when dealing with an applicant or employee with a hearing disability. 

New guidance from the EEOC

Earlier this year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released an updated resource document called “Hearing Disabilities in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act” to provide guidance to employers as well as employees.

Among the many topics covered in this document is what kinds of questions employers can ask job applicants about their hearing impairment. Basically, the rules apply to any applicant with any type of disability.

What kinds of inquiries are prohibited?

An employer can’t “ask any questions about an applicant’s medical condition or require an applicant to have a medical examination before it makes a conditional job offer.” This includes any questions about whether they wear hearing aids, have a cochlear implant or how much hearing loss they have.

All questions must relate to a person’s ability to do the essential functions of the job for which they’re applying, “with or without reasonable accommodation.” If an applicant discloses a hearing impairment or if it’s obvious (for example, if they have visible hearing aids), that doesn’t open the door for any question the interviewer wants to ask.

Even if you as a business owner or Human Resources professional understand the law, it’s crucial to make sure that anyone in your business who may talk to job candidates understands it also. You don’t want a supervisor asking an applicant what brand of hearing aid they have because their grandmother just got them and isn’t happy with hers. They might think they’re just “making conversation” when in fact, they’re violating the law – and being highly offensive.

This can land you in legal trouble if you end up not choosing this candidate because you found someone more qualified. You can’t blame them for thinking that supervisor’s fixation on their hearing aids was the reason. That’s why it’s crucial to be careful whom you allow to do any interviewing – especially alone. If you have questions or concerns about your responsibilities and rights under the ADA, it’s better to seek legal guidance than to wait until you’ve got a discrimination suit on your hands. 


Serving California’s Businesses and Individuals