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The ADA and Your Workplace - What You Need to Know to Avoid Getting Sued

The American Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 was designed to protect workers with disabilities in the workplace. Prior to the passing of this law, there were no regulations in place that required businesses to have facilities that were safe and accessible to people with disabilities.

Now, however, companies can face fines and worse if they fail to comply with the ADA's guidelines for equal opportunity facilities. For example, if an employee in a wheelchair does not have access to handicapped parking, a ramp, or wider doorways, he could sue the company. The settlement in itself could be very large. In addition, the company would face heavy fines (up to but no more than $50,000 for the first offense) for failing to comply. In addition, more than one offense equals even larger fines. So it pays to have a building in compliance with ADA guidelines.

So what do you need to know to avoid getting sued? First of all, you must know exactly what the guidelines are. How wide do doorways need to be? Do you need to have Braille even if none of your employees are blind? How many wheelchair ramps do you need? The ADA's website lists an entire set of regulations you must abide by if you want to be in compliance. As a general rule, you should have the following in place in order to avoid being sued:

 Equal access. People with disabilities must have equal access to all facilities and programs as those who don't have disabilities. In addition, they can't be charged extra for their accommodations, even if it adds expense to the employer.
 Integrated settings. According to the ADA, disabled people must be able to mingle and integrate with those who do not have disabilities. So, for example, there cannot be a break room specifically for those with disabilities - they must be integrated with the other employees.
 Remove prohibitive requirements. This means that you cannot bar a person from being hired simply because they have a disability. However, there are obvious limitations to this rule. For example, an employer wouldn't hire someone who is blind to operate the meat-cutter in a deli, and he wouldn't be held accountable for not doing so.
 Eliminate unnecessary requirements. This refers to a less obvious way of discriminating against people with disabilities. For example, a company says it requires a valid driver's license to be employed at their facility, regardless of whether the employee will be driving or not. This eliminates people who cannot drive because of a disability but would be able to function otherwise.
 Provide effective communications. This applies to people who are deaf or blind; they must have access to facilities with Braille, Telecommunication Devices for the Deaf (TDD), or interpreters.
 New construction. If necessary, employers must install more ramps, wider doorways, etc. to accommodate those with disabilities. Again, they cannot charge the person with the disability for these alterations.

These are just a few of the requirements. In order to keep from being sued or fined by the ADA, it is important that all companies comply with the requirements set forth by the ADA. This helps to not only protect against litigation, but also promote a respectful and nondiscriminatory workplace.

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