Less Than 15 Employees Doesn’t Exempt Small Businesses from Title III of ADA

For at least a year there was a rumor / myth going around in Facebook communities and Shopify forums and Reddit that if you had less than 15 employees the ADA did not apply to you, you fell under an exception in the ADA.

And so many people thought that website accessibility didn’t apply to them when we’re talking about ADA website compliance.

And they thought, well I have an exception so I don’t need to worry about that.

Well one, practically you still need to worry about it because plaintiffs’ law firms- whatever you know whatever you want to contest contend the law is, plaintiffs’ law firms have their idea of what the law is. And practically that is what different entities are being held to- these private entities are being held to.

But, under the law, what- the 15 employees exception is for Title I of the American Disabilities Act, not Title III.

And so if you have received a demand letter or a complaint, it is likely under Title III and not Title I because Title I refers to employment discrimination and, in the context of website accessibility, plaintiffs’ law firms are not focused in on employers.

Not to say that there haven’t been any complaints filed but that’s not what the bulk of this discussion is around.

So I’ve written an article on this and I think it’s flattened this myth but it’s worth going over.

And the reason this all got started is because when you searched in Google, what would often come up was the exception and it would- the excerpt said it’s only the ADA only applies to 15 or more- entities with 15 or more employees.

But many people – and this is including law firms because I found law firms with the exact wrong information on the website – many people stop reading at that excerpt.

And so I’ll just read the excerpt from Title I.

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.

So there it is that key line the ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees.

People would read that and then stop.

But the titles in the American Disabilities Act are standalone titles so they operate independently of one another.

And Title I refers to discrimination of an employment and who must comply and Title III refers to discrimination in the general public sphere and who must comply.

And so yes, of course, there are going to be some entities that they’re going to have to make sure they’re- they don’t discriminate against employees because they have 15 or more employees.

And there are going to be some entities that also have to concern themselves with Title III which is discrimination to the general public which is almost everyone virtually everyone out in the public sphere who has a place of public accommodation.

And we can get into the interpretation, but the point is that most websites now qualify as places of public accommodation if you ask the people that are practically enforcing the ADA which is the plaintiffs’ law firms, which are the plaintiffs’ law firms.

And so let’s illustrate this.

Let’s just- let’s take it out of the context of the digital world.

Let’s say there’s an Italian restaurant, it’s in New York and employees 13 employees.

Does the restaurant need to make sure that it’s facilities are accessible to the public?

Yes and that is because it does not matter whether they have 13 employees, it matters that they are open to the general public; they are a place of public accommodation.

So I I hope this clears it up but the point is is that there is not a 15 or more employees exception to Title III of the ADA.