Coworker Said Nasty Things About Me

Question:

I am severely hearing impaired. I wear state of the art hearing aides but if someone speaks to the back of my head I cannot understand them. I know they are talking, but I cannot understand most of what they are saying. I was recently laid off and the HR person asked me if I wanted to say anything before I left the room. I told the HR person, I felt they had handled the situation with my co-worker poorly. I had had problems with her for over a year. My coworker was really nasty anytime I asked her to repeat herself. I complained to HR about this and they told me I had to say (every time!) this phrase “I’m sorry but I am hearing impaired. Can you please repeat what you said?” My coworker refused to speak directly to my face where I use lip reading along with my hearing aides to understand. As I was getting laid off, the HR person said she mentioned to them that she thought I was “slow” and shouldn’t be working there. After I left the company some of the people I worked with said the coworker said similar things about my disability. Our HR department was also aware of this. I feel like my rights were violated. Is there anything I can do? Or is it too late, as I don’t work there anymore.

Signed,

Hearing Impaired


Answer:

Dear Hearing Impaired:

I’m not sure if you have any recourse, but it is not too late to learn if there is any thing you can do. You might start by consulting your state and federal representatives. Ask them where they recommend you consult. Both write their local offices and phone them. Meanwhile, because answers don’t always come quickly, look up your state’s Department of Labor. Again ask for their guidance. Also consult a local labor attorney to learn if she/he thinks you have a case and if so, does she/he take cases on contingency. You don’t say how long you have bee laid off and were employed in this place and under what job description. What was your job description? Did you have performance evaluation? Were you able to physically and skill-wise do the job? Was there a problem with your coworker from the start? In light of your disability, it seems to me that HR should have made special arrangement for you to perform, particularly so since you had made it know that that individual wouldn’t accommodate your hearing disability and was unpleasant to you.

Explain this to an attorney and to EEO if that is the most appropriate agency your representative suggests. What EEO might recommend is that your employer investigates your case and possibly proposes some accommodation. I don’t want to raise false hope, but it is worth exploring. If this all doesn’t prove successful, do your best to learn from it and seek work that doesn’t depend on communication, or can place you in a work setting that understands that you can hear best face-to-face speech. Please let us know what you learn.

Work is difficult enough without a disagreeable coworker. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. I hope you can find a job that makes you feel good about your work and coworkers.

William Gorden