15 Employees for ADA Website Compliance?

Do you need to be an employer of 15 employees to be subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

I get asked this question quite frequently and the answer is no, you don’t need to have 15 employees to be subject to the ADA.

The confusion comes up because many law firm and legal websites actually get this wrong and then marketing and accessibility agencies blog about it and perpetrate the myth of 15 employees necessary.

Here’s why the confusion comes about:

Title I of the ADA is an employment provision.  From ADA.gov, here’s a quick summary:

Title I of the ADA prohibits private employers, State and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities. The ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees, including State and local governments.

This throws many people (including lawyers) off track because it is the first title to show up and explicitly says, “The ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees…”

However, this is only in reference to Title I and Title I is concerned with discrimination in the employment of persons with disabilities.

Title III is completely independent of Title I.  Quickly, here’s what Title III says:

Title III prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations (businesses that are generally open to the public and that fall into one of 12 categories listed in the ADA

The stipulation to be subject to Title III is that you are a place of public accommodation.

You can be a place of public accommodation without having 15 employees.

For example, a restaurant can fall under Title III of the ADA because it is a place of public accommodation.

And, as most courts have ruled (although not all), websites are now considered places of public accommodation.

This means that if you have a website you can fall potentially fall under Title III of the ADA.

Of course, there are some technical arguments to be made as to what types of websites should be considered places of accommodation but those aren’t arguments most entities (businesses, corporations, non-profits, etc.) will want to litigate because it’s expensive to do so and, individually, it’s more efficient to settle those claims rather than defend against them – even if there are great arguments to be made.

While the website compliance aspect of the legal landscape is not 100% clear, what is clear is you don’t need to have 15 employees to be subject to the ADA.