What's a Small Business Owner to Do? A Framework and Guidelines for Complying with Title I - Employment of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)

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ABSTRACT

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) promises to have a major impact on the personnel policies and practices of many small businesses. Under ADA, a qualified person with a disability is protected from discrimination in employment decisions. Small businesses will be required to make "reasonable accommodations" for an employee with a disability at business expense unless the costs pose an "undue hardship." This paper provides a framework and guidelines for developing a strategy to enable the small business owner to comply with ADA standards.

INTRODUCTION

On July 26, 1990 the United States Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (Americans with Disabilities Act [1990]). This bill of rights for 43 million Americans with disabilities is perhaps the most significant law in terms of potential impact on business since the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (T. Word, personal communication, November 11, 1991). The federal government has placed its full power behind efforts to prevent discrimination against persons with disabilities and to facilitate their integration into the workplace (Fasman, Dollar hide, & Hahn, 1991).

The ADA protects the "qualified individual with a disability" from discrimination in employment, public services, public accommodations and telecommunications. Prior to the passage of the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 covered the employment of persons with disabilities. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, however, applied solely to federal agencies, to those employers who hold federal contracts or subcontracts in excess of $2,500, and to those receiving direct or indirect federal aid assistance. The ADA expands the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 by requiring all employers with 25 or more employees to comply by July 26, 1992. By 1994 employers with 15 or more employees will have to be in compliance. Also, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is voluntary to the private sector, whereas the ADA is mandatory (Americans with Disabilities Act [1990]).

Under the ADA, a qualified person with a disability is protected from having his or her disability being used as a criterion in making employment decisions (Susser, 1990). In addition, businesses will be required to make "reasonable accommodations" for the disabled. The ADA, like other major civil rights legislation, allows for a variety of sanctions for violators that will require compliance, including injunctions, job reinstatement, and back pay. Where there has been a pattern and practice of discrimination, monetary penalties will be imposed.

Many small businesses will fall under the employment section (Title I) of the ADA. This law is complex, in some sections ambiguous, and deals with a segment of our population with which many small business owners have little familiarity. Perhaps more importantly, however, is the fact that the ADA is administered under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission whose current head is an outspoken advocate of the rights of the persons with disabilities (Lawlor, 1991). Consequently, small business owners should prepare to comply with the provisions of the ADA. The purpose of this paper is to provide a framework and guidelines for developing a strategy to enable the small business owner to comply with ADA standards. Organizing for compliance is considered first.

ORGANIZING FOR A COMPLIANCE STRATEGY

Since the entire organization will be impacted by the ADA, the efforts of all departments - facilities, operations, and human resources - must be coordinated. Through the use of a formalized ADA plan, these efforts can be directed towards the goal of compliance.

The organization will benefit in numerous ways as the result of having a strategic ADA plan. The plan will furnish a cost effective, efficient approach to achieving compliance. It will not only provide a benchmark for future comparisons, but also will clearly document the steps that the organization has taken in its effort to meet the requirements of the ADA. …