A hearing impairment can constitute a disability as defined by the Danish Discrimination Act (“Forskelsbehandlingsloven”), even if the impairment turns out to be curable. This was determined in a case by the Eastern Division of the Danish High Court.
An employee, employed in a municipality, had a congenital hearing impairment. The municipality considered rebuilding her office to make it more suited to her needs (obtaining a quote of DKK 40,000 to do the work) but did not, in the end, undertake the rebuilding. The employee was, however, temporarily released from telephone tasks.
Later, the employee became ill, partly because of the psychological impact of her hearing impairment but also because of a deterioration in her condition. She was summoned to an official interview and the municipality eventually dismissed her due to the operational inconveniences which her hearing impairment entailed. Subsequently, the employee underwent an operation, which gave her back her hearing. She had previously informed the municipality that the hearing impairment was permanent.
The Eastern Division of the Danish High Court determined that the hearing impairment constituted a disability, as defined in the Discrimination Act. It was an impairment, which triggered the employer’s duty to make adjustments to the workplace to enable the employee to work on an equal footing with her colleagues. The subsequent discovery that the impairment was curable was irrelevant to the assessment, as the parties at the time of dismissal believed the condition was chronic.
Further, the Court determined that, in failing to carry out the necessary work to the office, the municipality had not done enough to meet the employee’s special needs. In this regard, the cost of DKK 40,000 was not considered a disproportionate burden.
The employee was awarded compensation of DKK 150,000, equivalent to five months’ salary.