The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the first federal civil rights law to deal broadly and specifically with the rights of disabled citizens. Since its passage in 1990, the ADA has had a huge impact on American society. It guarantees that disabled Americans have the same opportunities and access in the workplace, government programs, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications that other citizens enjoy. To qualify for ADA protection, an individual must have a physical or mental disability that impairs a "major life activity," such as walking, seeing, hearing, or speaking.
It is divided into five Titles:
- Employment (Title I): Your Business must provide reasonable accommodations to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in all aspects of employment. Possible changes may include restructuring jobs, altering the layout of workstations, or modifying equipment - very important aspects during the Space Planning and Design of the business facilities. Employment aspects may include the application process, hiring, wages, benefits, and all other aspects of employment. Medical examinations are highly regulated.
- Public Services (Title II): Public services, which include state and local government instrumentalities, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, and other commuter authorities, cannot deny services to people with disabilities participation in programs or activities which are available to people without disabilities. In addition, public transportation systems, such as public transit buses, must be accessible to individuals with disabilities.
- Public Accommodations (Title III): All new construction and modifications must be accessible to individuals with disabilities. For existing facilities, barriers to services must be removed if readily achievable. Public accommodations include facilities such as restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, retail stores, etc., as well as privately owned transportation systems.
- Telecommunications (Title IV): Telecommunications companies offering telephone service to the general public must have telephone relay service to individuals who use telecommunication devices for the deaf (TTYs) or similar devices.
- Miscellaneous (Title V): Includes a provision prohibiting either (a) coercing or threatening or (b) retaliating against the disabled or those attempting to aid people with disabilities in asserting their rights under the ADA.
The ADA's protection applies primarily, but not exclusively, to "disabled" individuals. An individual is "disabled" if he or she meets at least any one of the following tests:
- He or she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of his/her major life activities;
- He or she has a record of such an impairment; or
- He or she is regarded as having such impairment.
Other individuals who are protected in certain circumstances include:
- those, such as parents, who have an association with an individual known to have a disability, and
- those who are coerced or subjected to retaliation for assisting people with disabilities in asserting their rights under the ADA.
While the employment provisions of the ADA apply to employers of fifteen employees or more, its public accommodations provisions apply to all sizes of business, regardless of number of employees. State and local governments are covered regardless of size.
Complying with the ADA
The ADA states that employers must make "reasonable accommodations" for disabled workers, giving them the same rights and privileges as other employees. A business is only exempt from this requirement when it can prove that doing so would create an "undue hardship" on its business.
If an employer fails to comply with the ADA, an employee may sue, forcing the company to comply or to pay damages. In addition, the ADA prohibits any attempt to coerce or to retaliate against an employee for asserting their legal rights under the ADA or for reporting possible violations.
Who Must Comply with Title I of the ADA?
Private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies, labor unions, and joint labor-management committees must comply with Title I of the ADA. The ADA calls these "covered entities." For simplicity, this manual generally refers to all covered entities as "employers," except where there is a specific reason to emphasize the responsibilities of a particular type of entity.
An employer cannot discriminate against qualified applicants and employees on the basis of disability. The ADA's requirements apply to employers with 15 or more employees. To give smaller employers more time to prepare for compliance, coverage is phased in two steps as follows:
Covered employers are those who have 15 or more employees, including part-time employees, working for them for 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year. The ADA's definition of "employee" includes U.S. citizens who work for American companies, their subsidiaries, or firms controlled by Americans outside the USA. However, the Act provides an exemption from coverage for any action in compliance with the ADA which would violate the law of the foreign country in which a workplace is located.
The definition of "employer" includes persons who are "agents" of the employer, such as managers, supervisors, foremen, or others who act for the employer, such as agencies used to conduct background checks on candidates. Therefore, the employer is responsible for actions of such persons that may violate the law. These coverage requirements are similar to those of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Who Is Exempt?
Executive agencies of the U.S. Government are exempt from the ADA, but these agencies are covered by similar nondiscrimination requirements and additional affirmative employment requirements under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Also exempted from the ADA (as they are from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act) are corporations fully owned by the U.S. Government, Indian tribes, and bona fide private membership clubs that are not labor organizations and that are exempt from taxation under the Internal Revenue Code.
Who Is Protected by Title I?
The ADA prohibits employment discrimination against "qualified individuals with disabilities." A qualified individual with a disability is:
An individual with a disability who meets the skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of a position held or desired, and who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of a job.
To understand who is and who is not protected by the ADA, it is first necessary to understand the Act's definition of an "individual with a disability" and then determine if the individual meets the Act's definition of a "qualified individual with a disability."
The ADA definition of individual with a disability is very specific. A person with a "disability" is an individual who:
- has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of his/her major life activities;
- has a record of such an impairment; or
- is regarded as having such an impairment.
Individuals Specifically not Protected by the ADA
The ADA specifically states that certain individuals are not protected by its provisions:
Persons who currently use drugs illegally: Individuals who currently use drugs illegally are not individuals with disabilities protected under the Act when an employer takes action because of their continued use of drugs. This includes people who use prescription drugs illegally as well as those who use illegal drugs.
However, people who have been rehabilitated and do not currently use drugs illegally, or who are in the process of completing a rehabilitation program may be protected by the ADA.
Other specific exclusions: The Act states that homosexuality and bisexuality are not impairments and therefore are not disabilities under the ADA. In addition, the Act specifically excludes a number of behavior disorders from the definition of "individual with a disability."
Employment Practices Regulated by Title I of the ADA
Employers cannot discriminate against people with disabilities in regard to any employment practices or terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. This prohibition covers all aspects of the employment process.
Actions which Constitute Discrimination
The ADA specifies types of actions that may constitute discrimination. These actions are discussed more fully in the following chapters, as indicated:
- Limiting, segregating, or classifying a job applicant or employee in a way that adversely affects employment opportunities for the applicant or employee because of his or her disability.
- Participating in a contractual or other arrangement or relationship that subjects an employer's qualified applicant or employee with a disability to discrimination.
- Refusing to make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of a qualified applicant or employee with a disability, unless the accommodation would pose an undue hardship on the business.
- Using qualification standards, employment tests, or other selection criteria that screen out or tend to screen out an individual with a disability unless they are job-related and necessary for the business.
- Failing to use employment tests in the most effective manner to measure actual abilities. Tests must accurately reflect the skills, aptitude, or other factors being measured, and not the impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills of an employee or applicant with a disability (unless those are the skills the test is designed to measure).
- Denying an employment opportunity to a qualified individual because s/he has a relationship or association with an individual with a disability.
- Discriminating against an individual because he / she has opposed an employment practice of the employer or filed a complaint, testified, assisted, or participated in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing to enforce provisions of the Act.
Reasonable Accommodation and the Undue Hardship Limitation
Reasonable Accommodation: This is a critical component of the ADA's assurance of nondiscrimination. Reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are usually done that result in equal employment opportunity for an individual with a disability.
An employer must make a reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of a qualified applicant or employee with a disability unless it can show that the accommodation would cause an undue hardship on the operation of its business.
Some examples of reasonable accommodation include:
- making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to, and usable by, an individual with a disability;
- job restructuring;
- modifying work schedules;
- reassignment to a vacant position;
- acquiring or modifying equipment or devices;
- adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies;
- providing qualified readers or interpreters.
An employer is not required to lower quality or quantity standards to make an accommodation. Nor is an employer obligated to provide personal use items, such as glasses or hearing aids, as accommodations.
Undue Hardship: An employer is not required to provide an accommodation if it will impose an undue hardship on the operation of its business. Undue hardship is defined by the ADA as an action that is:
"Excessively costly, extensive, substantial, or disruptive, or that would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business."
In determining undue hardship, factors to be considered include the nature and cost of the accommodation in relation to the size, the financial resources, the nature and structure of the employer's operation, as well as the impact of the accommodation on the specific facility providing the accommodation.
Health or Safety Defense
An employer may require that an individual not pose a "direct threat" to the health or safety of himself/herself or others. A health or safety risk can only be considered if it is "a significant risk of substantial harm." Employers cannot deny an employment opportunity merely because of a slightly increased risk. An assessment of "direct threat" must be strictly based on valid medical analyses and/or other objective evidence, and not on speculation. Like any qualification standard, this requirement must apply to all applicants and employees, not just to people with disabilities.
If an individual appears to pose a direct threat because of a disability, the employer must first try to eliminate or reduce the risk to an acceptable level with reasonable accommodation. If an effective accommodation cannot be found, the employer may refuse to hire an applicant or discharge an employee who poses a direct threat.
Pre-employment Inquiries and Medical Examinations
You as an employer, may not ask a job applicant about the existence, nature, or severity of a disability. Applicants may be asked about their ability to perform specific job functions. An employer may not make medical inquiries or conduct a medical examination until after a job offer has been made. A job offer may be conditioned on the results of a medical examination or inquiry, but only if this is required for all entering employees in similar jobs. Medical examinations of employees must be job-related and consistent with the employer's business needs.
Drug and Alcohol Use
It is not a violation of the ADA for employers to use drug tests to find out if applicants or employees are currently illegally using drugs. Tests for illegal use of drugs are not subject to the ADA's restrictions on medical examinations. Employers may hold illegal users of drugs and alcoholics to the same performance and conduct standards as other employees.
Enforcement and Remedies
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has responsibility for enforcing compliance with Title I of the ADA. An individual with a disability who believes that he / she has been discriminated against in employment can file a charge with EEOC.
Remedies that may be required of an employer who is found to have discriminated against an applicant or employee with a disability include compensatory and punitive damages, back pay, front pay, restored benefits, attorney's fees, reasonable accommodation, reinstatement, and job offers.
Tax Credits for Complying
If you modify your company's workspace to comply with ADA regulations, you may qualify for a tax credit.
A credit of up to $5,000 per year is available to cover accommodations that cost at least $250 but less than $10,250. Another tax credit of up to $15,000 per year is available if you remove certain architectural or transportation barriers, such as steps, narrow doors, inaccessible parking spaces, and restrooms that do not meet ADA standards.
A series of other laws falls under the equal employment opportunity act, and your business is required to observe all their parameters in your management processes. Read the EEOC and Small Business to familiarize yourself with these regulations.
How the ADA Applies to Space Planning and Design of Private Office Work Environments?
From the above information you can conclude that the ADA and the guidelines that it cites are intended to give guidance for designing public spaces where people with disabilities must be afforded ready access. As such these guidelines are not requirements when applied to private work settings, like office environments. The guidelines highlight functional needs of individuals with specific disabilities.
In the contract furniture industry where CA Office Furniture and Design operates, there is no certification process to determine what products are accessible or acceptable. If terms like "ADA compliant", or "meets ADA requirements" are used to describe a product, it is typically the opinion of the manufacturer.
It is always wise to understand the local building codes that apply to private buildings and office space in your city or state. Requirements in Irvine are very different from those in Los Angeles or Corona or even in San Diego.
Design Philosophy of CA Office Furniture and Design:
In the spirit of accommodating individuals of varying needs and abilities CA Office Furniture and Design and its suppliers often refer to the ADA Accessibility Guideline and recognized experts of accessible design when designing and developing new products. In terms of the ADA requirements, Space Planning and Design in Anaheim, Costa Mesa or Irvine are exactly the same as those in Los Angeles, Corona and Riverside, or even in Rancho Bernardo and San Diego. For companies who employ individuals with a disability, our various product lines have many options for making workstations accessible.
In conclusion, Space Planning and Design forms a very important part of an Employer's responsibility to comply with Title 1 of the ADA. To ensure that your company provides disabled Americans with the same opportunities and access to your workplace that other citizens enjoy, contact CA Office Furniture and Design for a Free Consultation.
CA Office Furniture and Design is focused on the office furniture requirements for Relocating and Expanding Businesses, anywhere in Southern California. We do Free Ergonomic Office and Cubicle Layouts as well as the Manufacturing and Installation of Furniture. Our ranges cover New Furniture, Refurbished Cubicles as well as Used Furniture.
Feel free to visit our Virtual Showroom at: http://www.caofficedesign.com