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Does Your Business Have to Comply With the ADA?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses to make reasonable accommodations for those with recognized disabilities, but only if those businesses fall within the ambit of the law. If your business is on the small side or doesn't cater to the public, it may not need to comply with the ADA. How can you tell if your business falls under the ADA? Here are some general guidelines:

ADA Titles I and III

Although the ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability and requires reasonable accommodations in both the private and public sectors, Title I and Title III of the ADA are the ones most applicable to small private business owners. Title I of the ADA covers areas of private employment, and requires eligible businesses to provide employees with equal opportunity to enjoy privileges of employment. It also prohibits discrimination based on disability. Title III of the ADA focuses on private and public entities that are considered "public accommodations," and requires that businesses not discriminate against customers based on disability, including providing reasonable access. Still, for either of these titles, certain businesses may not have to comply with the ADA's standards.

Title I Compliance

The ADA defines "employer" as any person:
  • Engaged in an industry affecting commerce,
  • Employing 15 or more full-time employees each working day,
  • For at least 20 or more calendar weeks in the year.
This means if your business only has 14 or fewer full-time employees, or is only in business for less than 20 weeks a year, then you do not have to comply with Title I. Businesses entirely owned by a federally recognized Native American tribe are also exempt from Title I, as well as any tax-exempt private membership club.

Title III Compliance

As far as Title III is concerned, only businesses considered "public accommodations" are required to comply. The federal law offers this non-exhaustive list of public accomodations:
  • Inns, hotels, and motels
  • Restaurants and bars
  • Bakeries and grocery stores
  • Hardware stores or any sales/retail outlet
  • Banks
  • Laundromats and dry cleaners
  • Accountants and lawyers' offices
  • Health care providers' offices
  • Public transportation
  • Recreation venues
  • Schools
  • Social service centers
  • Gyms
Essentially, any business that regularly serves the public is considered a public accommodation, but private clubs or religious organizations are considered exempt. Business owners should remember that federal disability law under the ADA is only one part of disability law in any state; there are also corresponding state laws that prohibit discrimination based on disability both in employment and in public accommodations, like California's Unruh Civil Rights Act. Because disability laws can get complicated, it may be best to consult an experienced disability lawyer to make sure your company is in compliance. If you haven't started your business yet, you can complete business formation documents from home with simple, DIY options customized for your state.

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