In today’s world, ensuring your business is accessible to all demographics of individuals is crucial. Approximately 54 million Americans live with a disability and require special accommodations. In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law to ensure that these accommodations were regulated and individuals with disabilities were protected. Failing to comply with these regulations can lead to legal battles, insurance claims, and a damaged reputation. As more attention is paid to important social matters such as the ADA, the frequency of claims and lawsuits regarding disabilities continues to increase. It's critical for businesses to be proactive and ensure they are compliant with the most up-to-date regulations. Here we explore the different landscape regulations that could apply too, and tips to ensure your business is ADA compliant.
What You Need to Know about the Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with a wide range of disabilities from discrimination. These laws apply to not only public businesses and government institutions, but privately owned businesses. The disabilities covered under the ADA can range from physically limiting conditions to current mental health conditions or historical mental health conditions. The act requires businesses to provide reasonable accommodation for employees, customers, and members of the public when applicable.
How does the ADA apply to Hiring Practices?
Employment and hiring practices are important aspects of the ADA. The act applies to private companies with 15 or more employees, as well as public and government-owned businesses. Regulations begin at the time of employment application and prohibit discrimination against applicants who disclose disabilities. It also requires that businesses provide reasonable accommodation during the hiring process. These accommodations may include the following:
- Accessible informative materials such as a readable format, braille, large print, or audio
- Interviews were held in accessible locations for applicants with mobility disabilities
- Sign language interpreters
- Alternative testing formats if tests are involved
- Regulations on medical or disability-related questions
Under the act, if an applicant proves to be able and willing to perform the standard job duties, the employer cannot withhold an offer simply due to disability-related reasons. Additionally, the employer must not consider the provision of reasonable accommodations as a factor in hiring decisions. While a candidate who is not suitable for the job for other reasons cannot sue your business for not getting the job, your business could face a lawsuit if candidates are not given proper accommodations throughout the hiring process.
How Does the ADA Apply to Employees?
Once the hiring process is complete, ADA compliance is nowhere near finished. In fact, there are stricter guidelines for current employees who require special accommodations due to their disability. Disabilities come in many different forms, some more obvious than others. There are some basic guidelines for your business to follow to ensure you are adhering to employees who may need special assistance. Some of these guidelines include:
- Accessible ramps for employees with physical disabilities. In general, for every one inch of rise, a 12-inch long ramp is required. This means if your entrance has 5 inches of steps, you would need a 60-inch long ramp at minimum.
- Ramps and other methods of the entrance should have handrails in place
- Reserved parking
- Flexible working schedules to accommodate physical or medical needs
- Job task changes where applicable
- Changes to equipment: this could include the introduction of special software that provides larger font, audio, or touch screens.
- Service animals: if an employee requires a service animal, the employer cannot deny access to the animal. This applies to customers as well.
These are just some examples of reasonable accommodation, but additional accommodations should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Employers can only inquire further about employees' disabilities if there is a proven necessity to know that are related to the job duties. In such a situation, a formal process should be followed. Medical-related information must be kept private and cannot be discussed with other members of your business.
Does the ADA apply to any other areas of business?
Many businesses that lack experience with individuals with disabilities may think that accommodation is limited to accessible parking and entrance. This is false and could lead to lawsuits if due diligence is not done. For example, one area of business that is often overlooked is website accessibility. Since 2015, more than 200 businesses have been sued over website compliance. The majority of business today is done online, and websites need to provide access for employees and customers who require accommodation. Websites should have closed captions on videos, captioned images, and PDF options for important information. There are a lot of business practices that are not commonly thought of when it comes to being ADA compliant, but laws are getting stricter and it's important to build your business with compliance in mind. Some other areas that may be overlooked include:
- Wheelchair accessibility within the building
- Proper signage
- Accessible automatic doors
- Accessible bathrooms
- Height accommodating surfaces
Researching compliance and working with a professional can ensure your business is adhering to all suggested practices. These guidelines are continually changing and updating, so always ensure you are following the most up-to-date guidelines.
Insurance Coverage for ADA Claims
In the event your business is not compliant, insurance can help cover the cost of a lawsuit or mitigation of a claim. Insurance coverage for an ADA claim would fall under employment practices coverage (EPLI). This coverage is typically a standalone product, but can also be endorsed onto an existing policy. EPLI coverage is especially important for this type of claim as it's not always obvious and can be very costly to settle. These claims are becoming ever more complicated and although your business may intend to be fully compliant, having extra protection in the event you are not will protect you from burdening fees.
If the ADA lawsuit comes on from an individual who was injured due to lack of accessibility or accommodation, it may fall under your general liability policy. This is rare but does happen. Working with a professional insurance agent will ensure your business is covered in all possible areas.
Risk Management with ECBM
No business intends to experience an insurance claim, but they are common. With so many compliance regulations and regular changes to guidelines, it’s impossible to be risk-free. Luckily, insurance can protect you from these situations and ensure that claims are mitigated as quickly as possible, without financial distress. ECBM can help you protect your business against an ADA claim and ensure your business is following the best risk management practices to lessen your chances of experiencing a claim. For more information on how we can serve your business, contact one of our agents today.