Even amidst the current uncertainty from Covid-19, there are plenty of opportunities to grow your real estate business. This is true whether you are an agent or broker. The real estate industry is extremely rewarding and consistently offers chances to not only improve your clients’ lives, but to make a great living.
But like building any other type of business, there are certain unforced errors that you need to avoid. While there are many out there, one of the most important unforced errors can occur in your HR department. Specifically, we are talking about discrimination based on disability.
Disability discrimination in the workplace can derail even the most successful real estate business. Because of this, it’s worth taking the time to understand this HR mistake, the potential penalties, and how you can avoid it.
Disability discrimination is relatively self-explanatory. Essentially, it is when an employer unfavorably treats an individual with a disability because that individual has a disability.
The relevant federal law here is the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The overarching objective of the law is for those with disabilities to be treated the same as those who do not have disabilities. The ADA does this in several ways. First, it prohibits discrimination in all aspects of employment—including hiring, firing, promotion, pay, and more. In addition, employers must provide reasonable accommodations to workers with disabilities (as long as it does not cause the employer unnecessary hardship).
While the ADA forces private employers with at least 15 employees to comply with the law, many state laws are similar and apply to organizations that have fewer than 15 employees. Because the ADA is complex, there are also important distinctions on things like the definitions of “disability,” “reasonable accommodation,” and “undue hardship.”
For instance, the ADA defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.” Clearly, this definition is quite broad. There are some characteristics that may be commonly thought of as disabilities but don’t fit within this definition. These can include things like pregnancy or certain drug or alcohol issues. On the other hand, medical conditions like cancer, HIV infection, and bipolar disorder are covered under the ADA.
As you can see, an organization can get make this HR mistake without recognizing it. It is for these reasons that you’ll likely want to speak with an attorney to understand all of your legal obligations under the ADA.
Ultimately, failure to comply with the ADA and/or relevant state disability discrimination laws can be financially painful. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the maximum penalty for a first-time violation of the ADA is $75,000. Each subsequent violation of the ADA is even more onerous. Specifically, you can be charged $150,000 per violation.
The financial penalties for ADA violations can be intimidating. But even beyond these penalties, ADA violations harm your company’s reputation. These reputational effects can not only hurt morale within your company, but can dissuade other employees from joining your organization. In the end, it is a much better idea to comply with the ADA, even if it results in some incremental costs on your end.
In the end, paying attention to your obligations under the ADA provides a wealth of benefits. You can avoid these civil penalties and create an environment that is welcoming to your employees. Not only that, but you can also achieve some much-needed peace of mind and focus on the more important things in your day.
To get started, we recommend that you speak with an attorney. He or she can help you understand your obligations and what you need to do to avoid this HR mistake. Doing this, you will be well on your way to complying with the ADA.