Earlier this month, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced settlement of a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the agency against a Florida fast-food restaurant franchisee. The lawsuit alleged that the employer violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it failed to provide a deaf worker with an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter for interviews, orientation, trainings, and performance reviews. The employer agreed to pay $50,000 and to agree to a consent order establishing new policies and procedures for assisting employees and applicants with hearing disabilities.
Employers may balk at the idea of providing interpreters due to the cost and administrative burden associated with such requests. However, the ADA requires companies to agree to such accommodations unless they are able to demonstrate an undue hardship. That hardship may be based on cost, but not upon a comparison of such cost to the employee’s wages or level within the organization.
The ADA does not require that the employer provide an interpreter for every interaction with deaf employees. In many circumstances, the employer can provide routine instructions or answer question through written communications or other methods. However, for significant matters that could affect the terms and conditions of employment, hearing impaired workers generally have the right to request an interpreter to make sure that they are able to fully understand and communicate with the company. Interviews, initial orientation, and performance reviews likely fall under those types of meetings where the EEOC would consider clear communications to be crucial.
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