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Can an employer require me to buy hearing aids?

Hearing loss is a problem that many workers face. Perhaps they started their job decades ago and, over the years, their ability to hear clearly has decreased. Or they started the job recently and have always had to deal with this hearing issue.

Perhaps your employer told you that you need to buy hearing aids or face the loss of your job. Is that legal? Probably not.

Employer size and ability

One thing to keep in mind is that disability-related laws such as the ADA do not apply to the smallest employers, those with 14 or fewer employees. So, if your employer is a mom-and-pop store with only, say, five employees, then such a request may not be illegal.

Purchase requirements

So, can a larger employer, say, one that has 100 employees, say something like, "You need to buy hearing aids, or you won't be able to perform your job here."? This is likely illegal for several reasons.

First, hearing aids can be quite expensive, and many insurance plans do not cover them. It is an unfair burden to require you to shell out potentially thousands of dollars on hearing devices when other employees do not have to. Second, there may be accommodations that you and the employer can explore that do not involve the purchase of hearing aids. Perhaps a telephone amplifier can help you hear better on the phone or a vibrating pager could alert you at night when you are on call and asleep.

Potential solutions

On the other hand, can an employer offer to pay for you to use hearing aids as part of your job? That may be legitimate and even kind, but check that you and the company are on the same page regarding expectations. For example, are you allowed to wear the hearing aids at home, or is it a workplace thing only? If they break, who pays? 

If you have the opportunity to consult with a lawyer about your rights as an employee, you should do so. You may be able to learn how to effectively deal with your employer (or future potential employers) regarding hearing loss and other challenges.

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