The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990, with amendments made effective in 2009. This legislation was created to make life more inclusive for disabled individuals, and this includes the workplace.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides a handbook to guide small businesses in ADA compliance. The ADA’s main goal is to remove barriers, or anything that limits accessibility (e.g., steps to an entrance, narrow aisles and parking spots). This involves a two-pronged approach: generally making your place of business accessible, and taking accommodation requests from individuals (e.g., an accessible desk for a wheelchair-bound employee).
Although some ADA measures are nebulous for small businesses, and you may think that your business has to radically alter its workspace, Inc. Magazine gives a short and easy checklist that you can use when it comes to removing physical barriers for the disabled.
- Make your reception desk more accessible for wheelchair-bound guests by having a lower section.
- Use incandescent lights instead of fluorescent ones—the latter can cause seizures.
- Use a round conference table instead of a rectangular or square table.
- Use safety glass instead of paneling for workspace entryways.
- Use keyboard wrists rests to prevent injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
· Usually, accommodations are affordable, and even more so if these are made during the construction of your workplace.
Besides creating physically accessible workplaces, there’s the greater challenge for creating a welcoming and inclusive workplace, specifically in hiring practices. Since the ADA has been enacted, most disabled Americans are still unemployed. Here are some things to keep in mind from Inc. Magazine:
- Medical examinations or any other pre-employment inquiries are prohibited.
- You may ask questions which are related to how a job candidate would perform specific job functions, especially as the candidate gets closer to being hired.
- Certain accommodations, like a modified work schedule, can be handled on a case-by-case basis, and they cannot cause undue hardship—significant expense or difficulty.
- Although it’s not required to keep written job descriptions, not doing so can be used as evidence in a discrimination lawsuit.
- Even though these changes aren’t required until an employee needs them, it may be beneficial to start accommodating now in the inevitability that a disabled person applies for a job.
Even though the ADA has been in existence for over 25 years, recently many small businesses are increasingly finding that they are subject to lawsuits. These suits can come from the U.S. government or from an individual. This was partially because the Justice Department had updated compliance standards in 2011. Advocates of the disabled view the increase of lawsuits as a way to wake up small businesses that may be ignoring letters requesting ADA compliance.
Many small business owners are being caught off guard by allegations of ADA non-compliance. If you find yourself facing an ADA discrimination lawsuit, contacting an experienced business law attorney can help you explore options moving forward.