The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation and telecommunications. If someone is limited in walking, talking, seeing or learning because of a physical or mental impairment, that person is covered by the ADA. Some people protected by the ADA are those who are confined to a wheelchair, are blind or deaf, have learning disabilities, or are mentally ill.
If you serve the public, you must modify policies and practices by complying with accessible design standards, removing barriers in existing facilities and providing auxiliary aids when needed to ensure effective communication with people who have impairments.
If you have 15 or more employees, Title I of the ADA prohibits:
- Discrimination based on disability in hiring, promotions, training or other privileges of employment.
- Any questions about an applicant’s disability from a hiring manager.
Title I requires that you make reasonable accommodations for a qualified individual’s known physical or mental limitations unless it results in undue hardship for you. If you fail to comply, you can be sued in federal court. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sends a “right-to-sue” letter, charging employment discrimination based on disability.
Title II deals with public transportation services, which must comply with the requirements of accessibility. Title III covers public accommodations for privately operated transportation, restaurants, retail stores and movie theaters. Reasonable modifications for access, including removing barriers to existing buildings if they don’t entail much difficulty or expense, are required, or alternative accessible arrangements must be offered. Commercial facilities must comply with the ADA’s architectural standards for new construction and alterations. Title III may be enforced through complaints to the Department of Justice, if there is a pattern or practice of discrimination, or through private lawsuits.
Title IV deals with telecommunications and common carriers so callers can use text telephones and closed captioning to receive federal public service announcements. Review your policies and procedures for serving customers to make sure you permit people to use service animals.
Tax credits for the cost of accommodations are available to businesses with a total revenue of $1 million or less in the previous tax year or 30 or fewer full-time employees. The credit can cover 50% of the eligible access expenditures in a year, up to $10,250, with a maximum credit of $5,000. The tax credit can be used to offset the cost of barrier removal and alterations to improve accessibility. While only qualifying businesses can claim a tax credit for these alterations, any business can claim them as a tax deduction, up to $15,000.
Recruitment, pay, hiring, firing, job assignments, leave, layoffs and benefits all need to comply with the ADA. If providing a reasonable accommodation causes undue hardship to your business, you must provide another accommodation that would not. Undue hardship can be excessive cost to or disruption of the business, and it can be different for businesses of different sizes; however, it’s up to the business owner to seek funding from outside sources, like vocational rehabilitation agencies. However, as an employer, you have final discretion to choose the effective accommodations that are least expensive and easiest to provide. If you fail to do so, any affected individual may file a complaint with the EEOC, which will investigate and attempt to resolve any charges of discrimination through conciliation.
This is just a summary of a complex law. Be sure to get professional advice to make sure you’re properly complying with the ADA at your business.