Just because it takes extra time and effort is no reason to avoid the accommodation discussion

Companies have to be willing to accommodate deaf applicants.

According to a press release by the EEOC, a Texas based company is paying a fine of $110,000 to settle a suit where they were charged with not hiring two applicants based on their inability to hear. The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) requires employers to engage in interactive discussions with applicants or employees to determine if there exists a reasonable accommodation that will allow them to perform the work. The company in question failed to engage in this discussion with two applicants and it cost the company.

The case

S & B Industries, a Fort Worth cellphone repair facility, was hiring for telephone repair positions. Two women applied for the jobs, and during a group interview the two women used American Sign Language to converse with each other. This obviously alerted the company to the possibility of a disability in one or both. In a meeting with one of the supervisors of the company the two applicants requested written information about the jobs for which they were applying. Initially the supervisor complied with the request, but then he refused to supply continued information. My guess was that he did not want to spend the time or effort to continue to write responses, especially when he knew that the women were not going to get hired. The two women then were told they were not going to be hired.
According to the press release from the EEOC, “Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA protects employees from discrimination based on their disabilities and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees’ and applicants’ disabilities as long as it does not pose an undue hardship.” The EEOC did not see the supervisor writing responses, regardless of how frustrated he may have been, as an undue hardship. They did try to conciliate with the company, but that did not work, so the EEOC filed suit.

The cost

As I stated above the direct monetary cost to the company is $110,000, no small amount. However, there are additional costs that come in the form of other things that company has to do. According to the press release:

The company also agreed to post a notice about the settlement and provide training for employees on the ADA to include instruction on the reasonable accommodation process. The employer will also keep a written log of all complaints of disability discrimination and report to the EEOC on a semi-annual basis. Managers, supervisors, and human resource professionals will attend a training by the Deaf Action Center, a Dallas organization that provides advocacy services for individuals with hearing impairments. The training provided by the Deaf Action Center will cover topics such as the use of sign language interpreters in employment and interview settings.

As you can see the additional costs to the company include lost productivity with many people attending training sessions. It also includes lost reputation in the community. The company will also have to live with increased scrutiny by the EEOC for years.

The lesson

All companies should conduct training sessions for supervisors to make them aware the requirements of reasonable accommodation and interactive discussion. In this particular case the supervisor should have sought the help of HR in dealing with a situation he was not trained or prepared to deal with. His, most likely frustration, in handling written communication with deaf applicants cost the company significantly.
What does your company have in place?

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