Why is it important to be supportive of my employees with hearing loss?
More than 10 million people in the UK have hearing loss – about one in six of the population. The difficulties that people with hearing loss face in employment are not always obvious – but they’re very real.
Hearing loss can make people feel isolated at work, prevent people from fulfilling their potential – and even force people to leave employment altogether. However, with the right adjustments and employer support, hearing loss doesn’t have to present a barrier in the workplace. And by giving your employees with hearing loss the support they need, not only will it benefit them, it will be good for your business, too.
Don’t lose valuable employees
If a member of staff leaves your employment because of hearing difficulties, you will lose all of their knowledge, skills and experience. Recruiting and training a replacement member of staff can be very expensive and time-consuming. You can avoid this by being flexible in your approach, offering your support and making some small changes to the working environment. It’s worth remembering that as the workforce continues to get older, due to an ageing population and a rising retirement age, hearing loss will become increasingly common in the workplace. So it’s becoming even more important to make sure that hearing loss doesn’t cause you to lose dedicated and experienced members of staff.
It’s your legal duty to make reasonable adjustments
As an employer, you have some legal obligations around supporting your employees with hearing loss. Under the Equality Act 2010 (or the Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland), employers are required to make reasonable adjustments (changes) for people who are deaf or have hearing loss, so that they are not put at a 'substantial disadvantage' with non-disabled people.
What reasonable adjustments may I have to make for employees with hearing loss?
Under the Equality Act 2010 (the Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland), you have a duty as an employer to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace for your employees, and prospective employees, with hearing loss.
Reasonable adjustments could include:
- Adjusting the layout of a meeting room and using good lighting to help the person with hearing loss see everybody clearly (this is important for lipreading).
- Modifying a job to take the needs of a person with hearing loss needs into account.
- Moving a person with hearing loss to an office with good acoustics (where sound is transmitted well).
- Providing communication support for meetings, such as speech-to-text reporters.
- Installing equipment for employees with hearing loss, such as amplified telephones and flashing-light fire alarms.
- Providing a portable hearing loop, or other listening device, for employees with hearing loss to use during a training course away from the office.
- Giving employees time off work for their audiology appointments.
If an employee, or prospective employer, has a relatively minor hearing loss and it doesn’t affect their day-to-day life, it’s unlikely that you’ll be required to provide support under the Act – but if they ask for support, it’s likely that some simple changes will benefit you both. If a person’s hearing loss has a substantial effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, they will be protected under the Act and you will need to make reasonable adjustments to support them. You can find out more about the Equality Act in our Your rights range of factsheets.
How can I help my employees recognise the signs of hearing loss?
Most people slowly lose their hearing as part of the natural ageing process. As this happens over time, it can take people years to recognise that they have hearing loss, and some people may choose to ignore the signs, thinking it’s just something they have to put up with. However, the sooner someone with hearing difficulties has their hearing tested, the sooner they can get the help they need to manage their hearing loss and the less impact it will have – at home and at work.
You can help your employees to identify hearing loss early on and take steps to address it:
- Provide a hearing check for your staff as part of any annual health screening you might offer. Alternatively, signpost your staff to the Action on Hearing Loss Hearing Check, which can be carried out over the telephone or online.
- Reassure staff that if they develop a disability such as hearing loss, it will not mean unequal treatment in the workplace, and you will help them to get the support they need to fulfill their potential. This should be explained in your company’s policy on supporting people with a disability.
How can I find out what support my employees with hearing loss need?
A simple way to find out what support an employee with hearing loss might need is to arrange a work-based assessment. An assessor will visit your employee at work, ask them questions about how their hearing loss affects them in the workplace, and assess their work station. After the visit, the consultant will research the most appropriate and cost-effective support and equipment that could benefit your employee, and suggest some changes that you can make. You’ll receive these recommendations in a detailed report.
Work-based assessments are normally provided by the government scheme Access to Work, but they are also available from specialist providers such as Action on Hearing Loss. The assessment and the costs for the support and equipment that your employee needs can often be paid for through Access to Work.
Find out more about arranging a work-based assessment for your employee through our Access Solutions team.