Most employers are acutely aware of the legal implications involved with workplace discrimination.
Discriminatory employment practices based on age, gender, race, religion, and other protected categories are prohibited and violations usually result in legal action.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) opened the floodgates for lawsuits targeting discriminatory practices against people with disabilities. This sweeping piece of federal legislation was created to protect workers and the general public from unfair practices, and to ensure that facilities provide equal access for the disabled.
Since the passage of ADA, small business owners have been particularly vulnerable to ADA lawsuits. Unlike large corporations, small companies are unable to dedicate staff resources to ADA compliance and cannot afford ADA facility modifications all at once. The result is an ADA legal environment that is potentially toxic for the owners of small and medium-sized companies.
ADA Legal Issues
Unfortunately, there are a handful of individuals and legal professionals who make their living by filing ADA lawsuits against small businesses. It's not unusual for a single person to file hundreds of lawsuits against various small operations with the hope of receiving out-of-court settlements. They know that full compliance can be difficult for small businesses and that it's often cheaper for small firms to pay a settlement than it is to mount a defense in the courtroom.
Reducing the Risk of Litigation
- Education. Your best defense against ADA litigation is to educate yourself and your staff about compliance and discrimination against the disabled. Armed with accurate information, you can create a plan to achieve full ADA compliance as quickly as possible.
- Access. If you can't remove every architectural barrier now, a good rule of thumb is to do whatever you can to make sure workers and customers have equal access to your facility. Create short-term accommodations until you can afford permanent retrofits.
- Discrimination. Be careful not to discriminate against people with disabilities in the hiring process. Match job requirements to the activities that will actually be necessary to perform job descriptions, and only eliminate candidates when their disability clearly creates an unsafe or unproductive work environment.
- Communication. If a person's disability makes it difficult for them to communicate with others, you will need to consider implementing solutions like Braille, Telecommunication Devices for the Deaf (TDD), or interpreters.