THE RIGHT TO A SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETER
EEOC has said it all before, but yet another agency needed it said again when an employee with a severe hearing disability was not provided a sign language interpreter. EEOC pointed out that although the employee was provided with an interpreter during her initial training period, she was not during standup meetings or safety talks after that initial training period. In its defense the agency said (1) it was up to the employee to request a sign language interpreter before it was obligated to provide one, and (2) the agency knew the employee could read lips. The EEOC shot down each of those arguments by one again spelling out certain legal guarantees the deaf and hearing of hearing employees have. Then, it clobbered the agency with penalties for not bothering to comply with legal precedent.
First, the Commission held that “for a severely hearing impaired employee who can sign, reasonable accommodation, at a minimum, requires providing an interpreter for safety talks, discussions on work procedures, policies or assignments, and for every disciplinary action so that the employee can understand what is occurring at any and every crucial time in his or her employment career, whether or not he/she asks for an interpreter.” If your union has members with these disabilities you should get that message to them and offer your help if something is not right. Don’t just leave it to any outside associations for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Second, EEOC restated that an “Agency’s obligation to accommodate a deaf employee is not diminished where the employee can understand what is occurring at any and every crucial time in his or her employment career, whether or not he/she asks for an interpreter.”
As for the cost of the agency’s non-compliance about case law precedent in this area, EEOC ordered that it provide the involved managers training on the reasonable accommodation of disabilities, consider disciplining the involved managers and inform EEOC of whether it took any action, and pay the employee compensable damages. With damages would come attorney fees. For more details, check out Complainant v. Donohue, USPS, EEOC No. 0120122130 (March 11, 2015)