Play Audio
What Penalties Can Result from ADA Violations: A Guide

What Penalties Can Result from ADA Violations: A Comprehensive Guide

By Jeanette Coleman, SPHR & SHRM-SCP on Feb 14, 2024
6 min read 0 comment(s)

Share this:

what-penalties-can-result-from-ADA-violations (1)

Navigating the complexities of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a critical task for any small business, yet it can often seem daunting. This is particularly true when considering what penalties can result from ADA violations. Understanding the consequences of these violations is essential for every small business owner, not only to avoid legal pitfalls but to foster an inclusive and welcoming environment for all. Moreover, with the increasing scrutiny of ADA violations in the workplace, it's clear that compliance should be a top priority to mitigate potential legal and financial risks.

The ADA, a comprehensive legislation designed to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination, covers various aspects of business operations. These range from ensuring physical accessibility to adopting fair employment practices and making digital content accessible. Despite the critical importance of compliance, it's not uncommon for businesses to inadvertently overlook some of these requirements, which can lead to significant repercussions, including hefty fines and damage to the business's reputation.

In this guide, we'll cover the specifics of what penalties can result from ADA violations in the workplace, providing insights into both government-initiated civil penalties and the impact of private legal actions. By understanding these penalties and the broader implications of ADA violations, businesses can better navigate the legal landscape, ensuring their operations are both compliant and conducive to a positive societal impact.

The ADA and Service Animals in the Workplace

Financial Consequences of ADA Violations in the Workplace

Government-initiated civil penalties

Noncompliance with the ADA can lead to serious financial consequences for businesses, underscored by government-initiated civil penalties. These penalties are designed to enforce ADA compliance and ensure that businesses take the necessary steps to accommodate individuals with disabilities.

  • First-time ADA violations

    For businesses found noncompliant for the first time, fines can reach up to $55,000. This substantial penalty serves as a firm reminder of the importance of understanding and adhering to ADA requirements from the outset of business operations.

  • Subsequent ADA violations 

    Should a business fail to rectify noncompliance issues or commit additional ADA violations, the penalties escalate to $110,000 for each subsequent infraction. This significant increase in fines highlights the federal government's commitment to enforcing ADA standards and the costly implications of ongoing non-compliance.

  • Additional costs

    Beyond the fines themselves, businesses may also face additional financial burdens associated with bringing their operations into compliance. This can include the cost of structural modifications, updating policies and training staff, emphasizing the importance of proactive ADA compliance strategies.

RELATED: The Ultimate ADA Checklist for Small Business Accessibility >>

Private legal actions and their implications

The threat of private lawsuits represents another significant concern for businesses in relation to ADA violations in the workplace. In fact, the Society for Human Resources Management reports that the number of private lawsuits filed over accessibility for people with disabilities has been climbing significantly over the past decade.

According to numbers from the law firm Seyfarth Shaw, the 2,722 ADA suits filed in 2013 more than quadrupled in 2021—to a whopping 11,452—and they’ve stayed high through the firm’s most recent data collection as published in their 2023 mid-year report. 

The rise in private legal actions underscores the growing awareness and advocacy for disability rights, with individuals and organizations increasingly willing to take legal measures to ensure compliance.

  • Legal expenses 

    The cost of defending against ADA-related lawsuits can be substantial, including attorney fees, court costs, and potential settlement payments. These expenses can strain the financial resources of a business, particularly small businesses with limited budgets.

  • Damages and settlements 

    In addition to legal costs, businesses may also be required to pay damages to plaintiffs or agree to settlement terms, which can include monetary compensation and mandatory corrective actions. These outcomes not only impose financial costs but can also require significant changes to business operations and practices.

  • Reputational impact

    Beyond the direct financial implications, ADA violations in the workplace (and subsequent lawsuits) can also have a detrimental effect on a business's reputation. Media coverage and public awareness of ADA violations in the workplace can lead to negative perceptions, loss of customer trust and potentially a decline in business. The fact is, disability access is incredibly important to many Americans.

    The CDC reports that over 1 in 4 Americans (27%) live with some kind of disability, and even more know, love or take care of an individual with a disability.

    To help conceptualize these interactions, here’s a breakdown of disability types from the CDC: 

    • 12.1% of Americans live with a mobility disability, such as a disability that poses serious difficulties with climbing stairs or walking
    • 12.8% of Americans live with a cognitive disability, meaning they may have serious difficulties concentrating or remembering things 
    • 7.2% of Americans live with a disability that prevents them from running errands (like coming into your place of business) alone
    • 6.1% of Americans live with a hearing disability
    • 4.8% of Americans live with a vision disability
    • 3.6% of Americans live with a self-care disability that may prevent them from doing things such as dressing or bathing by themselves 

     It’s important to understand how these disabilities shape your interactions with your customer base, and how existing and prospective customers might feel when they’re in your store or accessing your content online.

RELATED:Your Questions Answered: A Guide to Hiring Employees with Disabilities >> 

Who Is Exempt from ADA Compliance? 

While certain specific employment-related ADA legal requirements may not extend to small businesses with fewer than 15 employees, no business is truly “exempt” from ADA violations in the workplace. As discussed, website accessibility issues can result in a loss of internet traffic from potential new customers. Detriment to your reputation can also be debilitating, no matter the size of your business. 

Further, the Department of Labor specifies that employers of fewer than 15 workers are still beholden to physical accessibility ADA compliance standards. Companies must make accommodations to allow disabled individuals to access their goods and services (both digitally and in-person) to the extent feasible in light of their circumstances. 

Surf-by lawsuits are on the rise making in essential to have ADA compliant websites.

The Importance of Proactive ADA Compliance

Given the severe penalties and the broad implications of ADA noncompliance, it's clear that businesses must prioritize ADA compliance not only to avoid legal and financial penalties but also to foster an inclusive environment for all customers and employees. Proactive measures can include:

  • Conducting accessibility audits 

    Regularly review and assess your business's physical and digital accessibility to identify and rectify potential compliance issues.

  • Seeking expert guidance 

    Collaborate with ADA HR compliance experts or legal advisors to ensure your business practices align with current regulations and standards.

  • Employee training 

    Educate your staff on ADA requirements and the importance of accessibility, ensuring that your business provides an inclusive and welcoming environment for individuals with disabilities.

RELATED: The Ultimate ADA Guide - Small Business Edition >>

Axcet HR Solutions: Your Partner in HR Compliance 

Understanding what penalties can result from ADA violations is essential for any business aiming to operate ethically and legally within the United States. The potential for government-initiated civil penalties and private legal actions underscores the importance of diligent ADA compliance. By taking proactive steps to ensure accessibility and inclusivity, businesses can mitigate the risk of penalties, contribute to a more equitable society and build positive relationships with all customers and employees.

At Axcet, we’re proud to help small businesses with a wide range of HR tasks, including helping you make simple changes to meet your ADA compliance obligations. To learn more about how we can help, schedule a consultation today. 

Axcet HR Solutions HR PEO Services

Get HR Updates

Table of Contents

Beyond the Resume: The 8 Best Interview Questions to Ask a Candidate

best interview questions to ask a candidate
unpaid time off

Beyond the Basics: Mastering Unpaid Time Off in the Modern Workplace

Let us know what you think...