ADA Compliance: What the Law Says About Your Small Business

Wheelchair Disabled Handicap ADA Accessible Reserved Parking Space

Small business compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a major concern for business owners. The law is also confusing because the definition of requirements states that businesses must make “reasonable accommodations” for qualified disabilities.

But what is reasonable?

A small business that has 30 employees will be treated differently than a small business that has one or two employees.

There are also portions of the law that include exemptions based on how many employees a business employs.

Understanding the Points Outlined in Title I and Title III

Title I and Title III are the two main points of focus in the Americans with Disabilities Act. These two areas are what small business owners will want to focus on the most. What do they say?

Understanding Title I

As an employer, you’re required to provide employees with disabilities with an equal opportunity. You cannot, as an employer:

  • Discriminate against employees with disabilities

Employers must also provide what is called reasonable accommodations. These accommodations are what vary greatly. You may not be able to remodel an entire warehouse for an employee because it puts the business in a financial hardship.

Yet you may be required to install a grab bar for an employee in the bathroom.

But the business must also fall under the definition of “employer.”

What’s the Definition of an Employer?

The ADA defines an employer a business that:

  • Engages in an industry affecting commerce
  • Employs 15+ employees full-time each work day
  • Engages in business for 20 more calendar weeks per year

For example, if your business hires 20 full-time employees for just the month of December on a seasonal basis, this means that your business falls outside of the employer definition.

Private clubs, religious organizations and recognized Native American tribes are exempt from ADA compliance requirements.

Understanding Title III

Title III has to deal with businesses that fall under “public accommodations.” These businesses will not be able to discriminate against customers with disabilities. Almost all businesses that offer a service to the public are included under this title.

Businesses of this type include:

  • Schools
  • Museums
  • Stores
  • Bars
  • Shops
  • Restaurants
  • Hotels
  • Theaters
  • Doctor’s offices
  • Dentist offices
  • Service businesses

Commercial facilities not open to the public are exempt from these requirements, but new construction or alteration is not exempt.

Reasonable accommodations need to be made for patrons, and this can be something as simple as allowing patrons to bring service dogs into the facility. Businesses must have something called “readily achievable” requirements. What this means is that the business must be able to remove barriers if they’re achievable without:

  • Hefty expense
  • Difficulty

Economic conditions of a business will also play a role in Title III. A business that has $1,000 in liquidity may not be able to make the accommodations that a business with $1 million in liquidity can make.

Removing barriers is much more difficult for a small business than it is for a larger business. Barrier removal may be reduced or delayed in the event that a small business is facing financial difficulty.