The Government has provided guidance to employers in England on the steps needed to make workplaces COVID-secure. The guidance tells employers how to carry out a risk assessment and make sensible adjustments. The guidance does not reduce the need for employers to make adjustments for disabled people. It says:
“This guidance does not supersede any legal obligations relating to health and safety, employment or equalities and it is important that as a business or an employer you continue to comply with your existing obligations, including those relating to individuals with protected characteristics.”
This means that employers across Great Britain still need to adhere to the Equality Act and make reasonable adjustments for disabled staff, including those living with hearing loss and deafness. Northern Ireland has separate workplace guidance and employers will need to continue to adhere to the Disability Discrimination Act.
Barriers for people with hearing loss
However, some of the measures included in the guidance will create barriers for people with hearing loss:
- Wearing face coverings will muffle sound and prevent people from lipreading.
- Setting up workstations back-to-back will make it harder to people with hearing loss to have conversations with colleagues.
- Using screens or barriers between workspaces will also prevent lipreading and make communication harder for people with hearing loss.
It’s important to recognise the potential impact of these barriers and consider what steps you can take to support employees who are negatively affected. Employers can consider making a number of simple adjustments, such as:
- Promote social distancing as a first step before introducing barriers and face coverings. This can be achieved through measures such as flexible work patterns and home working.
- Where screens and barriers are put in place these should be clear Perspex wherever possible. This will help people who lipread to communicate effectively with colleagues.
- Consider the use of face coverings with clear panels where coverings must be used and can do so safely. This will allow people with hearing loss to lipread. These should be supplied to all staff that the person works alongside, rather than just the person with hearing loss.
These simple tips could help many people with hearing loss, but some staff in specific locations will require more support and tailored interventions. We’re here to support you throughout this process.
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