Federal Employees

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:

(a) An agency shall make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of a qualified handicapped applicant or employee . . .

(b) Reasonable accommodation may include, but shall not be limited to: . . .acquisition or modification of equipment or devices, the provision of readers and interpreters, . . . and other similar actions.

29 C.F.R. § 1613.704.

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.  Section 501 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.  Section 501 requires federal 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.

Federal 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.

Qualified Interpreters

Effective communication is critical to successful job performance.  The Federal Personnel Manual makes a distinction between qualified interpreters and individuals who know some sign language:

“Interpreting” involves translating the spoken word into sign language and vice versa to enable deaf persons to communicate with hearing persons.  The terms “signing” and “interpreting” are often used interchangeably; however, “interpreting” requires a high degree of skill which many persons who have sign language abilities do not possess.  An interpreter is one who has completed an interpreting training program and/or is certified by a recognized certifying body such as the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf.

Chapter 306, Federal Personnel Manual, Subchapter 5, Section 5-3(a).

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has determined that deaf and hard of hearing federal employees have the right to qualified sign language interpreters, as opposed to “signers,” for all important communications, including discussions about training, work procedures, policies, assignments, and disciplinary actions.  Gerald Jackson v. Anthony M. Frank, Postmaster General, United States Postal Service, EEOC Request No. 05880750 (April 18, 1989); Barker v. United States Postal Service,EEOC Request No. 01842053 (September, 1986); Cassady v. U.S. Postal Service, EEOC Request No. 01841367 (June, 1986); Marcum v. Anthony M. Frank, EEOC Request No. 01892554 (January, 1990).

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 EEOC does not investigate charges of workplace discrimination by the federal government.  If you work for a federal agency, you must file a charge with your agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) office.  You must contact your agency’s EEO counselor within 45 days of the act of discrimination.

For more information, contact your agency’s EEO office or explore this.

Additional remedies or assistance may be available under union grievance procedures.