While the ADA imposes legal obligations on a business regarding providing access to the disabled public (usually its customers or clients), it also creates obligations between a business and its disabled employees. While these obligations are addressed in separate sections of the ADA (Title I addresses private employers, whereas Title III addresses public accommodations) and involve different legal issues, there are some significant areas of overlap that should not be ignored. Importantly, the ADA may require that a business take additional steps above and beyond removing access barriers for the public to ensure that its employees also are provided equal access to facilities.
To illustrate, under Title I, an employer is required to provide “reasonable accommodations” to qualified individuals with a disability. The ADA regulations identify various types of reasonable accommodations, including retrofitting, to allow disabled employees to enjoy the same benefits and privileges as those enjoyed by non-disabled employees. Specific examples of reasonable accommodations, much like those that may be required under Title III, include installing wheelchair ramps and proper signage. This requirement applies to both work-related and non-work facilities provided or maintained by the employer for use by employees, including break rooms, restrooms, lunch rooms and training rooms, which might not otherwise be open to the general public.
In light of the interplay between Titles I and III, any ADA compliance plan should account for the company’s obligations as a provider of public accommodations, as well as an employer. Failure to wear both hats in going through this process may expose a business to substantial liability under the ADA and State law.
Phillip K. Cha is a labor and employment law attorney with Swerdlow Florence Sanchez Swerdlow & Wimmer in Beverly Hills, California. If you have any questions about the ADA as it applies to employers, feel free to give Phillip a call at (310) 288-3980 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.