When is hearing loss considered a disability?
There is no strict guideline for when hearing loss is officially considered a disability for employers in Australia. However, someone with moderate to severe hearing impairment over 65dB in the better ear is generally eligible to access the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
Employer obligations for hearing impairment in the workplace
Hearing impairments are covered under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. Employers have the same obligations to hearing impaired employees as they do towards people with other disabilities.
Employers cannot discriminate against an employee because of their disability, and must offer hearing impaired employment opportunities. Not hiring an employee on the grounds of their hearing impairment could be considered disability discrimination.
In addition, employers have the same duty of care to provide a healthy and safe work environment for hearing impaired employees. This means any risks that could arise as a result of hearing impaired employment must be managed. Employers must also make reasonable adjustments for a current or potential candidate with hearing impairment.
Reasonable adjustments could include modifying work arrangements for the employee, such as giving them a quiet workspace with minimal background noise. Another reasonable adjustment could be providing the employee with equipment, such as a hearing aid or audio loop.
Risk management for hearing impaired employees
Many employers are tempted to insist the best form of risk management for hearing impaired employees is to have them wear hearing aids.
While hearing aids are one of the risk management measures for hearing impaired employees, it is by no means a blanket solution. Many hearing impaired employees may find hearing aids impossible to deal with. The hearing aid could amplify every ambient noise, or parts of the hearing aid may sit uncomfortably in the wearer’s ear.
Due to the limitations of hearing aids, it’s essential to incorporate additional risk management measures and adjustments to accommodate for hearing impaired employees. Simply requesting all employees with hearing impairments wear hearing aids could result in hearing impaired discrimination at work.