Recently I read a national news story about a disabled veteran who claimed that an employee of a hotel denied and mocked his request for assistance in getting his wheelchair down a flight of stairs. Although I lay no claim to knowing the true facts of the incident, or the hotel’s ADA procedures, the story did get me thinking about the vital role employees play in ensuring compliance with a business’s public accommodations obligations. Simply put, your employees can be either your greatest strength in ensuring compliance and avoiding lawsuits, or your Achilles heel.
Most businesses have detailed policies prohibiting disability discrimination in employment and procedures for when an employee requests an accommodation to a job duty or working condition. Many businesses do not, however, provide the same level of employee training on what to do when a customer makes a disability related request, or inquires about disability-related services. It is these employees, including salespeople, cashiers, and bank tellers, that are most likely to receive such requests or questions. Providing training can make your business accessible to more customers and also avoid legal risks.
Many aspects of such training relate closely to the same type of training most businesses provide concerning ADA employment requirements. This includes, for example, treating disabled patrons and customers respectfully and understanding that federal law requires businesses that serve the public to be open and accessible to the disabled. Employees should be aware of specific accessibility policies or assistance devices (such as where disabled restroom facilities and elevators are located). Good training also includes making sure your employees can spot and report malfunctioning or damaged ADA compliance equipment (such as when an automatic door stops working or a disabled parking sign is damaged). It is also critical that employees understand who at your company (such as managers or human resources personnel) they should consult if unsure of how to respond to a request for assistance or a customer complaint.
Well-trained employees can help you address ADA-related issues or complaints at the front end of the process, rather than after lawsuits are filed or attorneys are involved. Most importantly, good training can protect both your business’s image and its bottom line.