Twenty-two percent of American adults have a disability. But according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), 70% of individuals with severe disabilities are unemployed. To prevent discrimination in the workplace against people with disabilities, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 established ADA guidelines that businesses must follow.
Small business owners must comply with all anti-discrimination laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, when hiring employees. Learn about ADA compliance to provide equal opportunities for job seekers and avoid penalties.
What is the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990?
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is an anti-discrimination law intended to give equal rights to individuals with disabilities. ADA extends beyond anti-discrimination in the workplace and applies to equal opportunities in places such as telecommunications and public services. The EEOC enforces Title I of the ADA, which protects current and potential employees’ rights in the workplace.
Under Title I of the ADA, employers cannot discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities. Additionally, employers must provide reasonable accommodation to help the individual perform their job (e.g., frequent employee breaks).
Does ADA apply to small businesses? The Americans with Disabilities Act applies to all businesses that employ 15 or more employees.
If you have 15 or more employees, you must comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. If you have fewer than 15 employees, you should still be compliant, especially if you plan on expanding your workforce.
To follow Americans with disabilities guidelines, you need to know who is protected and your employer responsibilities.
Individuals protected by the ADA
The ADA protects individuals with a broad spectrum of disabilities, including those who are deaf, blind, epileptic, diabetic, and bipolar. The ADA also protects people who use wheelchairs, have or have had cancer, or have cognitive disabilities.
According to the EEOC, the ADA protects individuals:
- With a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits life activities
- Who have a record of a substantially limiting impairment
- Who are regarded as having a substantially limiting impairment, even if it’s minor or nonexistent
Keep in mind that the ADA only protects the above individuals who are qualified for the job they have or want. The current or potential employee must meet the job-related requirements and be able to perform the job with or without reasonable accommodation.
Your employer responsibilities
As an employer, you are not obligated to extend a job offer to an individual with a disability over a more qualified individual without a disability. However, you must give equal opportunities to individuals with disabilities in regards to hiring, promoting, extending benefits (e.g., health insurance), and providing reasonable accommodation.
During the hiring process, you cannot ask questions about an individual’s disability (e.g., how they became disabled) or require medical exams before extending a job offer. However, you can ask an applicant whether they need reasonable accommodation.
After extending a job offer, you can use medical exams—if you do it universally for all candidates in the job category. You can withdraw a job offer if the medical exam reveals that the candidate’s disability would prevent them from performing their job or jeopardize their or others’ health and safety.
You are responsible for keeping information about all your employees, including medical records, confidential. Store employee records in a secure location. And, separate medical and payroll records.
Make sure your business is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Consider consulting an ADA compliance expert to ensure everything from your small business website to your physical store are accommodating to current and potential employees with disabilities.
To learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, check out the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website.
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This article has been updated from its original publication date of January 16, 2019.
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