New ADA Access Regulations Will Affect Work Areas

First Quarter 2012Newsletters California Update

Employers have an obligation under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), as well as under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, to make reasonable accommodations for qualified employees with disabilities. Now, employers may have an additional obligation under Title III of the ADA to make certain “employee work areas” accessible.

Title III of the ADA concerns non-discrimination at places of public accommodations and commercial facilities, and includes building and construction standards to ensure that places of public accommodation are accessible for patrons with disabilities (“accessibility standards”). The regulations governing Title III’s accessibility standards were revised in 2010 and became effective on March 15, 2012. The revisions have significant effect on public accommodations with regard to the sale of tickets, service animals, swimming pools and reservations made by places of lodging. For employers, the significance of these revised regulations comes by way of new accessibility standards for “employee work areas.” Under these regulations, “employee work areas” include all or any portion of a space used only by employees and used only for work. Corridors, toilet rooms, kitchenettes and break rooms are not considered “employee work areas.”

Prior to the revisions, there were no accessibility requirements applicable to the interior of an employee work area. The prior set of regulations, issued in 1991, required only that employees work areas be designed and constructed so that individuals with disabilities could approach, enter and exit the areas. They did not require an employee work area to be constructed to permit maneuvering within the work area or to be accessible to individuals with disabilities. The revised regulations now require that common use circulation paths inside employee work areas greater than 1,000 square feet be accessible. Further, audible alarms in employee work areas must now be designed so that visible fire alarms can be integrated into the audible alarm system. Exempt from this rule are employee work areas that are less than 300 square feet and elevated seven inches or more above the finish floor, or where the elevation is essential to the function of the space.

There is a “safe harbor” for compliance with these new requirements. Existing facilities that already comply with the 1991 regulations and do not make any alterations to their facilities after March 15, 2012, do not need to comply with the revised regulations. Newly constructed facilities, or facilities altered after March 15, 2012, however, must comply with the revised regulations. It is recommended that any employer considering renovations of its facilities or any new construction evaluate its property or consult legal counsel about compliance with Title III of the ADA. Failure to do so exposes the company to potential litigation based on violation of the ADA.

Click here for revised regulations or for additional guidance.