Discrimination and Reasonable Accommodations

Your rights in the workplace may depend on who your employer is.

If you are a federal employee, your rights are covered under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  This law requires the federal government to practice affirmative action to hire and to promote employees with a disability, including deaf and hard of hearing employees.  The regulations for this law require the federal government to provide equal access to training and promotion opportunities, and to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.  For more information about federal employees, see Federal Employees.

If you work for a private company (a for-profit or non-profit business) or for a state or local government agency, the following information is for you. 

Your rights are covered under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Title I prohibits employers, employment agencies, labor unions and joint labor-management committees from discriminating against individuals with disabilities.  Title I applies only to employers with 15 or more employees.

Reasonable Accommodations

A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things are usually done to enable a qualified individual with a disability to have an equal employment opportunity.  The ADA requires reasonable accommodations:

  • to ensure equal opportunity in the application process;
  • to enable an employee to perform an essential function of a job; and
  • to allow an employee to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment.

Reasonable accommodations may include:

  • TTYs, amplified telephones, captioned telephones, and videophones;
  • instant messaging and e-mail systems;
  • assistive listening systems and devices;
  • visual alerts for audible alarms and messages;
  • modifications to reduce ambient noise levels;
  • captioned audiovisual information;
  • permission to bring service animals into the workplace;
  • modification of intercom entry systems for secured areas or buildings; and
  • policies and procedures for procuring necessary qualified interpreter services and real-time captioning or CART services.

For some individuals and for some jobs, it may be necessary to have interpreter or CART services available on a regular basis.  For other employees or for job applicants, occasional interpreter or CART services on an as-needed basis may be appropriate.  The ADA requires employers to make sure that communication with deaf and hard of hearing employees or job applicants is effective.  This includes special occasions and meetings, training, job evaluations, and communication concerning work, discipline, or job benefits.  It also includes regular work-related communication and employer-sponsored benefits and programs.

Employers should consult with deaf and hard of hearing employees about the type of accommodations that are needed in order to make its facilities and work environment accessible.  The accommodation that is appropriate for one deaf or hard of hearing employee may not be successful in achieving effective communication for other employees.  Similarly, an accommodation that is effective in one situation may not be effective for a different activity.

The duty to provide qualified interpreters or CART, and to make other reasonable accommodations, is not limited to daily work performance activities or the ability to perform the essential functions of a job.  Applicants are entitled to reasonable accommodations during the interview and application process.  Employees are entitled to equal access to general information, employee benefits, and training opportunities available to other employees.  Employees should have access to telephone services, recreational and social activities, emergency procedures, health programs, and the whole range of facilities, services and amenities that are available to other employees.  Modifications or adjustments may be required in the work environment, in the manner or circumstances in which a job is customarily performed, and in employment policies.

Employers may deduct the cost of accommodations as a business expense and may be eligible for special tax credits to assist in the provision of reasonable accommodations.  Employers should consult their tax advisors on this issue.

Filing a Complaint

Employment discrimination may take several forms.  For example:

  • the employer did not hire you because you are deaf or hard of hearing;
  • the employer failed to provide a reasonable accommodation such as a qualified interpreter or CART services;
  • you experienced harassment because you are deaf or hard of hearing;
  • the employer fired you because you are deaf or hard of hearing; or
  • the employer retaliated against you, perhaps because you requested a reasonable accommodation or filed an employment discrimination complaint.

Sometimes, you may experience more than one type of discrimination.  For example, if you are fired because you requested an interpreter, you may have claims for failure to provide a reasonable accommodation, termination on the basis of disability, and retaliation.  Be sure to include all types of discrimination that you may have experienced when filing a complaint.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for investigating charges of workplace discrimination by businesses (for-profit; non-profit; with 15 or more employees) and state and local government agencies.  If you believe that your employer has discriminated against you on the basis of disability, you may file a complaint with the EEOC.  You must first file a complaint with the EEOC, before you can file a lawsuit in court.

You may also be able to file a complaint under state law.  Your state may have an agency that handles employment discrimination complaints.

The EEOC has offices throughout the country.  In some states, you must file a charge within 180 days for the discrimination.  In other states, you may have more time.  In all cases, you must file your charge within the time limit.  You should contact your local EEOC office to learn more information about how to file a complaint.  You may find your local EEOC office online.

After you file a complaint, the EEOC can investigate your case.  The EEOC may try to resolve your case informally through mediation.  If the EEOC cannot resolve the case through mediation, the EEOC will decide whether to bring a lawsuit on your behalf.  If the EEOC decides not to bring a lawsuit or finds that there was no discrimination, you will get letter that permits you to file a lawsuit in court.  This is called a “right to sue” letter.  After you receive this letter, you have 90 days to file a lawsuit in court.

For more information, see https://www.eeoc.gov/employees/charge.cfm.