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How employers can handle deaf workers, discrimination and reasonable adjustments

  1. Deaf workers
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    AlanPrice

    AlanPrice Contributor, Peninsula Business Services Full Member

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    The Deaf jobseeker and employee experiences survey report 2016 found that over half of deaf or hard of hearing employees have faced some discrimination during their career with 62% facing this from colleagues and 53% being subjected to discrimination by management.

    Deaf and hard of hearing individuals are protected from being subject to unfavourable treatment under the Equality Act 2010. Under equality laws, once an employer knows or should know that their employee has a disability, they are under a duty to make reasonable adjustments to avoid the disadvantage suffered by the employee. As the survey found that 47% of deaf workers did not receive support and guidance from their employer it is apparent that many employers are failing in this provision.

    Reasonable adjustments are not such an onerous duty as may be first thought. The duty encompasses making adjustments to a workplace rule or policy, a feature of the workplace or providing technical aids and even simple changes may be enough to reduce or remove the disadvantage. For example, a requirement for employees to report sickness absence by telephone disadvantages deaf employees who cannot hear to use a telephone. Instead, a reasonable adjustment would be to allow that employee to report absence through text or email communications.

    The use of technology offers support to employees with hearing impairments in a way that might not have been explored previously. Though there are specialist programs that are available to support employees with hearing difficulties, there are many other small changes that can be implemented at no, or very little, cost. This can include: having amplified sound alerts on computers; flashing mobile screens when alerts are triggered; having captions on videos and voice recognition speech-to-text software.

    Showing a willingness to introduce any of these small changes, or flexibility to adapt company procedures, will meet legal requirements and show the employee that they are valued by the company.

    One employee with a hearing impairment will not be the same as another. People can be affected by a range of differing levels of hearing loss, and because of a number of different causes, so it is important that employers are open to speaking to each affected employee and finding out what works for them. Making reasonable adjustments should not be a unilateral decision and it may be that employers need to offer trial adjustments to determine what the best solution is for each worker.

    The survey also noted that 37% of recipients reported facing discrimination as early in their employment as the interview stage. Importantly, discrimination laws protect recruitment stages of employment and employers may have to put in place reasonable adjustments to remove any disadvantages during recruiting. This could include removing the requirement for telephone interviews, providing communication support during the interview and asking the hearing impaired candidate what reasonable adjustments they feel they require during interview and employment.

    Before deaf employees begin working, employers can put in place awareness training for colleagues to ensure successful communication is taking place in the workplace. In addition, employers should be aware of the government funded Access to Work scheme, which helps to provide funding for interpretation and other services to employees who need these for office support, meetings, training sessions and other workplace needs depending on the size of the business.

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