ADA Compliance and the Church
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which took effect on January 26th, 1992, is a federal law aimed at providing “a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities”.
The two basic areas covered by the ADA are in employment and construction of and access to buildings and transportation. With respect to construction, the ADA exemption of religious organizations and religious entities controlled by religious organizations is very broad, encompassing a wide variety of situations. Religious organization are not exempt when it comes to employment.
Churches may be required to comply with the ADA in the employment context if it (1) has 15 or more employees and (2) affects interstate commerce. The 15 or more relates to the number of people on payroll as opposed to those actually working on a given day. The interstate commerce can be minimal, and the ADA is triggered. Thus, activities such as using interstate communications, soliciting out-of-state employee applicants, or receiving out-of-state donations can be considered sufficient.
A church subject to the ADA should not take comfort in dismissing the law as having little relevance to it as long as the church does not engage in what it considers to be discrimination. This could be a grave mistake. In addition, employers have a duty to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee’s disability, and a duty to engage in a good-faith interactive process to identify reasonable accommodations.
All facilities, programs, and activities of a church, whether they are religious or secular, are exempt. If a church holds an event or program , which is open to the public, it is exempt. The religious entity’s exemption does not extend to a non-religious tenant. If the church leases space to a for-profit entity the for-profit entity will be covered by the ADA and subject to all its requirements.
Website or App
There has been a recent trend in lawsuits targeting websites and apps for their failure to comply with the ADA. In 2016 – 240 lawsuits, 2017 – 814 lawsuits, 2018 – 2,258 lawsuits. Many of these are settled quickly for cash. Churches are EXEMPT from compliance with the public accommodations of the ADA.
So, enough said.
No, not really. Religious entities are not required to comply with the Federal ADA rules but there are state and local codes which might apply. And, we may want to accommodate people with disabilities and allow them access to the church.
Call The National Organization on Disability – Religion and Disability Program at 202-293-5960 for more information.
The information in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be taken as specific legal advice.