The Americans with Disabilities Act has been around for more than 20 years. Still, small businesses continue to be uncertain about what they are or are not required to do in order to comply. Here are five things to know about the law.
1. Very small businesses are not subject to ADA rules
If you have 15 or more employees, you are prohibited from discriminating against people with disabilities when it comes to hiring job applicants and giving promotions and benefits. Smaller firms are not subject to ADA rules.
If subject to the ADA, you cannot ask whether a person is disabled when interviewing for a position. Also, you have to make reasonable job accommodations for a worker’s disabilities if the accommodations do not impose an “undue hardship” on you (explained later).
If you are subject to the ADA and fail to comply, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission can enforce the law.
2. Making accommodations doesn’t have to bankrupt you
You must make reasonable accommodations for a disabled employee, whether full- or part-time. Accommodations can be to remove physical obstacles (such as inaccessible equipment), or they may be to adapt procedures or rules (such as when work is performed or when breaks are taken). The cost of accommodations may be little or nothing. The EEOC gives this example: A cashier with lupus gets tired—the accommodation is providing a stool.
You don’t have to make accommodations if it means an “undue hardship” for you. This can be financial or simply difficult to provide. There is no fixed dollar limit for this purpose. It depends on your situation.
3. Not all physical or mental conditions are disabilities
You don’t have to make accommodations for everyone, only someone disabled under the ADA. The definition of disability for purposes of the ADA is quite broad, and was made even more so by amendments to the law in 2008.
However, only disabilities affecting a major life activity, such as walking, communicating, or bending, are protected by the ADA. An employee who breaks her arm is not experiencing a major life activity impairment and no special accommodation is required (you’re not barred, of course, for making an accommodation for anyone, regardless of disability).
4. You may get more than you give
The ADA doesn’t require that you hire someone who is disabled. If you have two job applicants, one disabled and one who is not, you can hire whomever is more qualified for the position. You don’t have to hire the disabled applicant merely because of the disability.
However, hiring someone with a disability may entitle you to a tax credit:
- Work opportunity credit of up to $2,400 for hiring a vocational rehabilitation referral. However, you must submit a request to your state workforce agency within 28 days from when the person starts work to determine if the new employee is certified as a vocational rehabilitation referral.
- Disabled access credit of up to $5,000 for making your premises more accessible to disabled people.
5. Even smaller businesses should try to comply
While not mandatory, it makes good business sense to follow the law anyway. The reason? About 20 percent of the U.S. population has some sort of disability. If you don’t hire from this job pool, you may be missing key talent.
If you have any concerns about what to do to comply with the ADA, work with a knowledgeable attorney. The cost of the attorney may be less than the penalties you could suffer if you overlook something.