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What Happens to Businesses That Are Not ADA Compliant?

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) affects most businesses across the nation that serve the public. Complying with the ADA isn’t a suggestion—it’s a legal requirement. But what happens to businesses that are not ADA compliant?

The short answer is this: They can expect serious financial consequences, including heavy fines, lawsuits, and/or bad PR.

Your own business could be formally and informally penalized if it violates the ADA. And those penalties could do a lot of damage to your business. Make no mistake—an improperly designed restroom or lack of signage can have a significant impact. That’s why small business owners like you must understand the ramifications of noncompliance.

What Are Your Responsibilities for Complying with the ADA?

To avoid the repercussions of violating the ADA, you need to know what’s required of your business. Otherwise, you run the risk of overlooking something essential. That’s why it’s worth going over your business’s responsibilities. 

So, what does your business need to do?

First, if your building is open to the public, you need to adhere to Title III of the ADA. This section covers public accommodations and services operated by private entities. Ultimately, it prohibits such facilities from discriminating against people with disabilities. 

When it comes to Title III, your responsibilities include the following:

Most penalties occur when businesses are not ADA compliant per Title III rules. Typically, fines are placed on facilities that don’t have features such as braille signage, accessible parking spaces, accessible restrooms, or wheelchair ramps. However, many other noncompliance issues can land businesses in trouble, including failure to recognize a person’s service animal. 

Second, you have ADA responsibilities as an employer. If your business employs 15 or more people, you’re required to follow the guidelines provided in Title I of the ADA. This means implementing nondiscriminatory practices for hiring, training, compensation, and more. 

When it comes to Title I, your responsibilities include the following:

Businesses that are not ADA compliant per Title I rules can also be penalized. Discrimination against employees with disabilities can result in civil penalties, lawsuits, and more. You can find examples of reasonable accommodations to make on this disability discrimination fact sheet from the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC).

To sum it all up, you’re responsible for ensuring accessibility for the people you employ and the people you serve—visitors and customers alike. Everything from your building to your communication methods should consider the needs of people with disabilities.

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Do All Businesses Have to Be ADA Compliant?

All businesses are required to allow people with disabilities to access their goods or services. However, those open to the public (except religious organizations and some private clubs) have to follow specific requirements under Title III of the ADA. Additionally, any business with 15 or more employees must comply with Title I of the ADA for employment. 

What Are the Consequences If Your Business Is Not ADA Compliant?

There are certain things expected of your business in terms of ADA compliance. But what happens if it’s not ADA compliant? Here are the specific consequences you could face:

1. Fines

ADA noncompliance has always led to fines for business owners. However, the penalties became even more severe in early 2014. At this time, the U.S. Department of Justice raised how much money a noncompliant organization could be forced to pay for violations. These penalties are assessed by the Civil Rights Division, and—as noted above—they specifically relate to Title III of the ADA.

As a reminder, Title III bans all public facilities from discriminating against anyone with disabilities regarding access to programs, facilities, and goods and services. These establishments are required to make reasonable efforts to accommodate people with disabilities to give them equal access. If your building is open to the public and you fail to make these accommodations, you leave your business vulnerable to fines. 

Examples of accommodations could include the following:

Under the rules established in 2014, the maximum penalty for a first-offense Title III violation is $75,000, and the maximum for a second offense—and any subsequent violations—is $150,000. Further, state and local governments may impose additional fines to maintain higher accessibility standards. For small businesses, this can be a significant blow. Large companies are typically given less leeway and must ensure constant compliance with ADA standards.

2. Lawsuits

Along with fines, there’s also the potential for lawsuits if your business is not ADA compliant. Over the years, many cases have been filed against companies that did not make the necessary accommodations for those with disabilities. Although defendants are usually given time to achieve compliance, those who file are often allowed to collect damages. 

How much could you stand to lose if your business is hit with a lawsuit?

Ultimately, it depends on the situation. For example, there have been cases where people with disabilities suffered injuries and were rewarded millions in punitive damages. Even complaints filed against businesses for ADA noncompliance have resulted in businesses having to pay tens of thousands of dollars. Unsurprisingly, many companies hit with ADA-related lawsuits have been forced to close. 

3. Negative PR

If your business is not ADA compliant, there are also indirect effects like negative PR. Building features or employment practices discriminating against people with disabilities can hurt your reputation. As a result, customers may decide to take their business elsewhere. 

How ADA Rules Are Enforced

Because the ADA is split up into different sections, the rules are enforced by separate entities. Title III rules—those specific to public accommodations—are regulated and enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice. However, Title I rules—those related to employment—are regulated and enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission


All businesses should do everything possible to ensure accessibility and ADA compliance, including using ADA signage throughout the premises. Otherwise, there’s a risk of incurring heavy fines and even being hit with costly lawsuits. That’s why it’s so important to familiarize yourself with the rules and self-audit your building.

If you discover your business is not ADA compliant due to a lack of proper signage, the team at Erie Custom Signs can help! We offer a wide range of customizable and ready-made signs to help you get your building up to code quickly. Visit our e-commerce store today to browse our selection.

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