By: Kara M. Maciel
Today, March 15, marks the effective date of the 2010 ADA Standards for hotels, restaurants, retailers, spas, golf clubs and other places of public accomodation. As we have written about previously, there are several new requirements and obligations that the hospitality industry must implement in order to ensure their properties are compliant with the new regulations. Below are five steps every hospitality owner and operator should consider to avoid costly fines and lawsuits:
1. Implement new reservation policies for blocking off rooms and ensuring staff communicates effectively with guests as to the accessible elements within the Hotel.
2. Know what you can and cannot say to individuals with a service animal.
3. Got a pool, hot tub, sauna, or fitness room? Understand your new obligations for modifying those areas which are not covered by the 2010 ADA Standards' safe harbor.
4. Train staff members (including reservations agents, concierge, front desk, restaurant staff) on accessible elements within your property and how to communicate and interact with guests with disabilities.
5. Conduct an walk-through inspection of your property with legal counsel to review compliance efforts and recommendations for improving compliance.
In light of increased penalties from the DOJ ($55,000 for the first violation and $110,000 for each subsequent violation) and the tidal wave of recent professional plaintiff lawsuits, we expect enforcement efforts within the hospitality industry to significantly rise. As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Reviewing policies and procedures, training staff members, and conducting an inspection protected by the attorney-client privilege will go a long way to ensure your property and facility does not face costly compliance issues.