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Dublin: 5 °C Wednesday 11 December, 2019
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Man awarded €5,000 after job interviewer greeted him with 'so, you're Deaf?'

The branch manager asked the man, who had years of experience in a similar role, how he would manage to do the warehouse job safely.

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A DEAF MAN who was greeted with the words “so you’re Deaf?” by a job interviewer has been awarded €5,500 for being discriminated against in the interview.

In the case, the man had applied for a job at a warehousing company as a warehouse operative that involved fork-lifting skills.

The man had previously worked for four years in a warehouse environment with colleagues and alongside machines and using forklifts where he had managed perfectly well in this role.

The man was called for interview for the new job and told the firm in advance that communication through email and text is preferable as he is “actually Deaf”.

The firm’s branch manager told the Workplace Relations Commission hearing that she was aware of the fact that the complainant was Deaf and that she was “intrigued” to understand how this might work in their workplace.

On arrival for interview, the man was led to the interview room through a series of friendly gestures by the branch manager.

According to WRC adjudication officer, Penelope McGrath both parties agree that the first thing said by the branch manager was something to the effect of “So, you’re Deaf?”.

After hearing both sides as a WRC hearing, McGrath  found that the employer discriminated against the man under the Employment Equality Acts and has ordered the firm to pay him €5,500.

‘How would you hear it?’

During the interview, the job applicant indicated that he needed paper and pen to communicate and the branch manager asked him: “In the warehouse how would you manage to work safely?”

She also asked him: “If there is a hazard and someone was to shout a warning how would you hear it?”

The man told the WRC hearing that this immediate focus on his disability “was grossly discriminatory” and to his mind the remainder of this interview was tainted by the fact that the branch manager had set aside any preliminary discussion of his ability and experience in favour of a demand to know how his deafness could not be a hazard and a danger in the workplace.

The complainant said he was on the back-foot and felt he was being asked to defend his belief that he could work in this workplace.

The man told the WRC that he would expect a prospective employer would focus on previous work, previous experience and any skills and expertise which a proposed candidate might bring to a job.

He stated that the emphasis placed on his deafness “was offensive to him”.

‘Staggering gap’

In her findings, McGrath stated that to her mind there is a staggering gap between job interviewer’s proposition that she was “intrigued” to know how a Deaf person could be assimilated into the workplace and the actual steps she took to appraise herself of how this would work in her workplace.

McGrath stated: “The fact is she took no steps to learn how the perceived disability could be safely accommodated. It was open to her to explore the issue of how the previous workplace had operated and she opted not to do it.”

The complainant said he picked up on this lack of interest immediately, and the interview was over within ten minutes.

The man contended that from the start of the interview it was clear to him that his deafness was seen as an impediment which the employer could not or would not overcome to allow the prospective employer give credible consideration to him as a prospective candidate.

According to McGrath’s report, the branch manager “conceded that in any other interview conducted for this position she did not ask the individual candidate how they would manage to work safely”.

McGrath stated: “This question was reserved solely for the complainant thereby negatively distinguishing between him and his competitors by reason of his deafness.”

The branch manager “had not sought advice on how to conduct this interview and McGrath stated that she accepted that she might have been naive.

Hazards

The branch manager told the hearing that she had to consider her responsibility for the safety of all her staff in this busy high-energy work environment.

She pointed out that hazards in the workplace include fast moving forklifts, reversing trucks and high racking. The branch manager is not trained in HR and sought no advice regarding how to best conduct an interview with someone who is Deaf.

The branch manager said that she interviewed twelve people for the position and the best and most enthusiastic candidate was selected for the position.

In her evidence, she stated that she gave the complainant the “opportunity to tell me how the disability wouldn’t affect his work”.

The branch manager specifically stated that the complainant had a bad manner in the interview.

She said that he was short and impatient and that when referencing his CV he smacked his hand down heavily on the copy in front of them.

She claimed that the complainant was “hostile” from the start and doubted that he would be a good fit for this small team of employees.

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About the author:

Gordon Deegan

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