Federal and New Jersey employment laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability, which includes hearing loss. Employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees with qualifying hearing impairments as long as it does not create an undue hardship. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) often differ in the scope of their protections, with state law tending to be more expansive. The definition of “disability” under federal law, in turn, tends to be more restrictive. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces the ADA and other federal employment statutes, recently issued guidance on how employers may address employees or job applicants with hearing disabilities.
The NJLAD defines “disability” as a range of conditions that either “prevent the typical exercise of any bodily or mental functions” or can be demonstrated through “accepted clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques.” The ADA’s definition depends more on how a condition affects an individual. In order to qualify as a disability under the ADA, a condition must “substantially limit one or more major life activities.”
When an employee with a qualifying disability requests an accommodation, the employer must consider whether providing that accommodation would pose an undue hardship. They must work with the employee to find the best way to help them perform their job duties. Factors that employers may consider during this process include the cost of a requested accommodation and the effect it will have on the workplace, other employees, and the employer’s business.