Does the Americans with Disabilities Act affect small businesses?

Does the Americans with Disabilities Act affect small businesses?

Aug 26, 2021 | Employment Law


Employment laws aren’t universal. They vary from industry to industry and in different states. Even the size of your business and the number of employees you have can influence which state and federal employment laws apply to your company. Certain rules, like federal laws about equal pay, apply to businesses with even one paid employee. Other programs and laws only apply to bigger businesses.

One of the most innovative civil rights laws is probably the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA can also be a cause of major business expenses. It helps protect the rights of Americans with disabling medical conditions in many environments, including the employment world. Notably, the ADA requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations for workers with disabling medical conditions. Will that rule apply to your business?

Business size, not industry, determines ADA applicability

The ADA is a broad-reaching federal law. It applies to almost all workplaces of a certain size across many industries, both public and private. Once your company grows to have 15 or more employees, the rules of the ADA will govern how you interact with your workers.

The ADA protects workers with medical conditions from discrimination in any job-related decisions. A worker diagnosed with a disabling medical condition or an applicant with special needs should receive not only the same consideration as equally skilled workers but also reasonable accommodations to help them perform their jobs. Your company will have to provide those accommodations and cover their costs.

Is there a limit to accommodation requests?

Workers who need certain workplace supports can request them from their employer under the ADA. Common accommodations might include wheelchair-accessible bathrooms, wheelchair ramps, a first-floor office, extra breaks or a work-from-home arrangement. Other times, people need assistive technology or a change to their job responsibilities.

Generally, employers will have to provide accommodations that are reasonable. However, if the accommodation request would cause undue hardship to your company, such as forcing it to cease operations for weeks or costing hundreds of thousands of dollars when your annual operating budget barely ever breaks into seven figures, you may have to question whether the request is reasonable.

Evaluating employee requests on an individual basis can help your company avoid allegations of ADA violations or other civil rights issues with your workers.