What Happens to Businesses That Are Not ADA Compliant?
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As you likely know, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) affects most businesses across the nation, regardless of whether they welcome the general public on their premises. If employees work at an office building, for example, that building must follow ADA regulations. But what happens to businesses that are not ADA compliant?
The short answer is this: They can expect to pay some heavy fines.
Make no mistake—your own business could be penalized if it’s found to be in violation of the ADA. And those penalties could cause severe financial harm to your business. Not convinced that an improperly designed restroom or lack of signage could have a significant impact? In that case, it’s time to take a closer look at the potential consequences of noncompliance.
Understanding Your Business’s Responsibilities Regarding the ADA
Before diving into the penalties for non-compliance with the ADA, it’s worth going over your business’s responsibilities. After all, to avoid the repercussions of violating the ADA, you must know what’s required of your business. Otherwise, you run the risk of overlooking something essential.
So, what does your business need to do?
First, if your building is open to the public, you need to be sure you 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:
- Meeting the minimum standards for accessibility when altering an existing facility or constructing a new one (outlined in the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design)
- Making reasonable modifications to the usual ways of doing things when serving those with disabilities
- Taking the necessary steps to communicate effectively with customers with vision, hearing, and speech disabilities
The penalties we’ll discuss in the next section are specific to cases in which 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 restrooms, or wheelchair ramps. However, many other common non-compliance issues can land businesses in trouble.
With all that said, you should also be aware of your 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.
Consequences If Your Business Is Not ADA Compliant
Now that you have a better idea of what’s expected of your business in terms of ADA compliance, you’re probably wondering what could really happen if it’s not ADA compliant. Specifically, what financial consequences could you face?
Let’s start with the heavy fines mentioned earlier…
ADA noncompliance has always led to fines for business owners. However, the penalties became even more severe in early 2014. At this time, the United States Department of Justice raised the amount of money that a non-compliant 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 any person with disabilities with regard to access to programs, facilities, and goods and services. These public entities are required to make reasonable efforts to accommodate people with disabilities to afford them this equal access. If your building is open to the public and you fail to make these accommodations, you leave your business vulnerable to such fines.
Examples of accommodations could include the following:
- Removal of physical barriers from spaces that would otherwise impede access
- Providing aids for communication, such as braille lettering for blind or vision-impaired people, or sign language interpreters and/or closed captioning for deaf or hearing-impaired people
- Any other adjustments that ensure equal access for people of all abilities
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 standards of accessibility. For small businesses, this could represent a significant blow to their viability. Large companies are likely to be given significantly less leeway, and therefore must also ensure constant compliance with ADA standards.
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 non-compliance have resulted in businesses having to pay tens of thousands of dollars. It’s no surprise to learn that many companies hit with ADA-related lawsuits have been forced to close.
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 they can to ensure accessibility and ADA compliance, including using ADA-compliant 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 ready-made signs to help you get your building up to code quickly. Visit our e-commerce store today to browse our selection.