What Employers and Employees need to know about Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Employer’s Responsibilities under the Americans with Disability Act
Passed in 1990 by Congress, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was designed to prevent discrimination based on disability – in the same way that the Civil Rights Act was crafted to prevent discrimination based on ethnicity or sex.
The ADA is often thought of in employment terms, but also applies to government, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications.
Who is considered “disabled” under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA)?
A person is regarded as disabled if they have, or is thought to have, a physical or mental disability that considerably limits the person's ability to walk, talk, see or learn. If a person has a disability that considerably affects their capacity to carry out at least one of these activities, that person is officially recognized as disabled under the American with Disabilities Act.
The ADA doesn’t list all of the impairments by name, but typical examples include reliance on a wheelchair or other assistive device, blindness, deafness and learning disabilities.
What organizations or agencies fall under the law?
The federal law states that companies with 15 or more employees must supply disabled employees with an equal chance to pursue the same employment-related opportunities available to those without a disability. For instance, the ADA prevents discrimination in personnel decisions, training, pay and other aspects of employment.
The American with Disabilities Act also limits questions that can be asked during a job interview, and it mandates that organizations make sensible accommodation to the acknowledged physical or mental impairments of individuals who are otherwise qualified to do a job.
The ADA (Americans with Disability Act) also covers all government agencies, from the smallest local governments all the way up to the federal level. Governmental agencies are necessitated to make realistic changes to policies to steer clear of discrimination, unless they can show that doing so would essentially change the nature of the service or activity being carried out.
How should the law be applied in the workplace?
First, it should be noted that the American with Disabilities Act does not shield individuals from disciplinary actions or even termination. Poor conduct or performance should not be excused due to a person’s disability, and the situation should be handled as if he or she were not disabled. Basically, company policies should be applied consistently to those who break the rules.
Second, harassment related to a person’s disability should not be tolerated, no matter what the situation. In cases involving harassment accusations, federal authorities will look to see if a company took steps to handle a situation, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website.
Finally, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee for raising the issue of discrimination or filing charges. For example, firing an employee for complaining about a lack of accommodation for their disability is illegal.
How should an organization ensure it is complying with the law?
Many organizations and experts suggest appointing a single individual or department to handle all issues related to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Those responsible for managing ADA issues should collect information on compliance, handle any planning processes and initiate actions needed for compliance.
Businesses should evaluate policies and procedures with respect to the disability law. The company facilities should also undergo an accessibility audit.
If changes need to be made, make sure to properly document them. Also, businesses should consider any supplemental policies or accommodations that aren’t necessary but might assist a disabled individual.
Finally, a business should plan for contingencies. For example, if the modification cannot be made in time for a new employee, have a backup plan ready and make sure to document it.
Penalties for noncompliance
Companies should take the possibility of noncompliance very seriously as the penalties are quite steep. For the first violation, the business can be fined up to $50,000. For subsequent violations, the fine jumps to $100,000. Congress has passed laws that may provide up to 12 months of relief from civil legal action for small businesses that do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Financial help in complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Even though, it is a necessary, complying with the ADA could cost a business a significant amount of money to install new accommodations. Fortunately, there are several federal tax-related options when it comes to funding compliance.
The Small Business Tax Credit is available for companies with either $1 million or less in revenue or 30 or fewer full-time employees on the payroll. A credit of up to $5,000 annually can be taken to cover the cost of adaptive equipment or alternative materials.
The Work Opportunity Tax Credit is available to companies that hire employees with disabilities from certain groups, such as those from vocational rehabilitation agencies and those receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The tax credit is for up to $2,400 annually for each employee who puts in at least 400 hours. Another credit worth up to $1,200 may be available for each summer youth employee who qualifies.
The Architectural/Transportation Tax Deduction is also available to any business that must remove barriers for disabled employees. Worth up to $15,000, the deduction can cover modifications such as providing wheelchair access and making entrances accessible.
With these thousands of dollars in credits and deductions available from the IRS, businesses have little room for argument when choosing not to comply with the ADA.
Case Study: EEOC v. Sears, Roebuck & Co.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought legal action against Sears after receiving a number of complaints about the retailer having an inflexible employees’ compensation policy and firing employees with disabilities rather than providing them with reasonable accommodations.
The government agency provided documentation to the court that showed Sears fired employees under its employees’ compensation leave policy. After reviewing the extent of claimants’ impairments, their capacity to work, and if Sears had made any attempt to bring them back to work, the court found in favor of the EEOC, resulting in one of the largest financial settlements in the agency’s history: $6.2 million.