High Anxiety

A Silver Lining?

Grim as the ADA's implementation of rules regarding psychiatric conditions may sound, there is another side to this story. "ADA is not meant to upset small-business operations," says Blanck. "The biggest problem isn't the law; it's misinformation about it. There are many myths."

For example, "under the ADA, you don't have to hire anybody who cannot do what you need. You don't have to change job requirements in any way," says Blanck, who explains that the ADA includes no affirmative action requirements. "This is not a preferential treatment law."

Blanck notes that large companies have had to comply with the ADA for years. Businesses with 25 or more employees have had to comply since 1990, and the law was expanded in 1992 to include businesses with 15 or more employees.

What's more, says John Patrick Shannon, assistant dean at the University of Florida College of Law in Gainesville and a specialist in ADA issues, even the more broadly applied ADA might not impact your business: "Businesses with fewer than 15 employees are still exempt from all provisions."

Business owners' biggest concern comes down to the bottom line: cost. But the costs are not nearly as high as employers fear, says Blanck, who has done comprehensive studies of accommodations made by big business in the past five years. While fears typically focus on budget-wrecking expenditures such as job coaches, "the typical cost of an accommodation is $100," says Blanck.

What can $100 buy? Possibly a simple partition for a worker who has difficulties concentrating or a sound-deadening headset for a worker who has problems with loud noises. And some accommodations cost nothing--for instance, ignoring a warehouse worker's sloppy dress.

"Courts look at the nature of the business, its financial strength and its size in determining what's a `reasonable' [accommodation]," says Shannon. "The small business or start-up will never be required to make a $100,000 accommodation."

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This article was originally published in the January 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: High Anxiety.

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