ADA disabled parking standards for employees and customers

| January 8, 2013 | 46 Comments

painted handicap parking symbol

Providing adequate handicap parking for both employees and customers is not only a good business practice, it’s the law (via Sean Leonard Parry on Flickr, licensed with Creative Commons).

Parking is often one of the most visible manifestations of accessibility design in this country. How many parking spaces a business must provide is strictly regulated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Here at, we’ve also learned that parking isn’t just about compliance – it can also be about customer relationships.

One of our most frequently-commented-upon blog posts is about complying with ADA standards in parking lots. Recently one reader asked us about their commercial business in California, which provides accessible parking for its employees in the employee parking lot, and also provides accessible parking spaces at the front entry to their building marked as “Handicapped Customer Parking Only.” However, this created a conflict.

“Our disabled employees continue to take up spaces designated for customers. What can we do without violating the ADA? Adequate handicap parking is available to most or all of our employees, and special accommodations can be arranged, if need be.”

The ADA says that each separate lot or garage has to be compliant with their minimum parking space requirements. So in the question above, our Californian friends have two parking lots; let’s assume they have the minimum required number of accessible spaces. (If they don’t, they have a bigger problem.)

To illustrate how these lots might get used differently, let’s say the employee lot has 20 spaces, and the customer lot has 100 spaces. In the employee lot, the ADA would only require one space to be accessible (and it would have to be a van-accessible spot), while in the customer parking lot, there would be four total spaces (including one that’s van-accessible).

handicap parking visitor sign

Customizing your accessible parking signs can be a good way to subtly remind employees to park in the correct lot (via

As you can see, since the Standards set up proportional minimum requirements, an employer with two disabled employees might want to go above the letter of the law and provide extra spaces in their employee parking lot. Otherwise, with two employees vying for the single employee-designated accessible spot, it’s inevitable that one of them will park out front in the customer parking lot. (Our clue is that the reader says “most or all of our employees.”)

– K. Cavouras

Category: No Parking, Regulations

Comments (46)

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  1. Tamara Kartz says:

    If employees are parking in the “vistor handicapped” parking, there is a reason. You don’t have enough! I get so tired of hearing my company say, “we have what we need to be compliant with the law.” And I do not think handicapped spaces should be designated. If it’s a handicapped space, then it’s a handicapped space. The building I work in is actually divided into and considered 3 different buildings that are connected. The whole complex is over 1/2 mile long and if you walk from start to finish through the hallways, it’s almost a mile. Many times I have to park at the end furthest from where my desk is located and I can not make it all the way to my desk without stopping and resting and stretching my back. But the employer feels as long as they get you close to the building, they don’t care how you get to your work station. I think the problem at my company is people using handicapped placards that don’t belong to them. But no one is ever willing to do anything about that issue. We have 3000 employees and have several clnics housed in our buildings, over and above the 3000 employees and we have 26 handicap parking spaces. There is a pain clinic, a phlebotomy clinic, cardiac clinic, child development clinic and a health clinic not included in those 3000 employees. It’s always a fight to be able to get to work and park.

    • Christina says:

      We have the same situation at the hospital I work at. There is an employee parking structure with handicap parking spaces but this lot is at the farthest place from the back of the hospital. I work in the front of the hospital and there are parking spaces there but employees aren’t allowed to use them; they are for Out patients coming to the hospital for tests! However, I work the midnight shift and no outpatient tests are done during my shift, yet I still can’t park there. I wondered if it is even legal to deny a handicapped person with a handicap placard from parking in CERTAIN handicap spots. These spots are not designated visitor parking only.

  2. Rich says:

    This is where my question comes in; What if as a customer all of the handicap spaces are taken, but there is that open spot in the employee lot?

    Even though it says “parking by permit only” does that still apply to the handicap spot?

    My issue was that at a museum the only parking is in a garage, which I cannot use. There was one little 4 spot lot that said “by permit only” that was empty and had one accessible spot. I didn’t park there, but wondered if I could.

  3. Brian says:

    On Federal installations: is it legal to have reserved handicapped parking and if so can they park there without displaying proper plates or placard? How does one disabled person without exception to wheelchair ramp be more deserving of another?

  4. nontribalvet says:

    I work for a Tribal casino. I am not a tribal member. Employees park in a lot purchased by the Tribe, but which is in public area. There are 7 handicap spots that the tribe is saying is for customers only and that employees with disabilities cannot use. 5 spots are allocated to customers only and the other 2 were initially allocated for employees,then the 2 were taken away. At this point, there are 0 employee handicap spots, but everyone is afraid to speak up in fear of loosing his or her job. By telling us that if we do not adhere to their employee mandated parking that there will be consequences from either the Tribal Chairman or the Tribal Council. Sounds to me like they are breaking the law. If I have a handicap plate and hanger are I not entitled to park in any designated handicap spot?
    I think they should all be locked up for awhile to think about it.
    Where do I go from here?
    [email protected]

    • Debbie Moore says:

      Hi there! We’re working on getting an answer to your very interesting question. It’s a tricky one, as it pits the federal law (the Americans with Disabilities Act) against tribal law. The issue has been litigated before, with unclear results. We’re looking into it, and hope to have an answer for you in a few days.

  5. Chrissy says:

    in the event of major snow, is an employer required to make sure the snow is removed from the parking lot in order to have a clear path to the vehicle?

  6. Ann says:

    Is a building with 200 employees required to have handicap parking? It is a new building.

    • Debbie Moore says:

      Definitely! More information here:
      Under federal law, if your building has 200 parking spots, it would need at least 6 accessible parking spots to be in compliance. I don’t know what state you’re writing us from, but your state may require more accessible parking than that, and definitely won’t require less.

  7. Drew says:

    I work in a large office building in Los Angeles that has no disabled parking at all in their 5-level underground parking. At first, they tried to deny my an accommodation, stating that they are a 100% valet lot [which isn’t true, since hundreds of employees self-park on the lower three levels. After I balked, the parking manager provided complimentary valet service as an accommodation, but now, one week later, wants either me or my employer to pay an extra $125 per month for the valet parking, in addition to the monthly parking that my employer already pays. If not, I’ll have to park in the lower 3-5 levels and hunt for parking in regular, non-disabled spaces, some of which are quite far from the elevators.

  8. Krissa says:


    We’re frustrated on your behalf that you’re having to fight this hard for a basic right mandated by both the ADA and even-more-stringent California Building Code — accessible parking available to you at any public accommodation or commercial enterprise. This is your place of employment, and you have to travel there every day and face an inaccessible parking situation. It’s inexcusable.

    It sounds like the facility managers and parking manager know full well that they’re supposed to provide accessible parking, and as we understand the law, charging you (more) for the service they’re supposed to provide is not legal. If there are self-park spaces or floors of the parking garage, those floors must have accessible spaces clearly marked for employees (first-come, first-served) or if it’s a reserved-parking employee garage, then the spot on the shortest accessible route should be reserved for employees with valid disability placards.

    You and your employer, who I assume leases their space and share of the parking from a property owner or management company, should press them to provide equal accommodation without undue or extra cost — if you can’t get cooperation, you can call in a Certified Access Specialist to determine compliance, and finally, consult a lawyer to find out what your options are to force compliance.

  9. Duncan C. says:

    We have a drive-thru dairy that has NO parking spaces at all. We have to put handicapped parking in, but I have no idea where. Anywhere close to the building is in the drive thru path. Any area not in the path of cars driving through is not close to the building. The areas at the sides of the building are in the path of the enter and exit driveways. It is a DRIVE-THRU!

    • Conrad Lumm says:

      Hi, Duncan- if you have zero parking, meaning not even employee parking, then you aren’t required to have any accessible parking spots, either. Anyone who told you otherwise is messing with you.

  10. Frank Prado says:

    My employer has ordered me to park in the farthest handicapped parking slot from the “Staff Entrance Door”, stating that the nearest handicapped slots are for customers only, although no signs to that effect are posted anywhere outside or inside the building. Can my employer ban me from parking closer to the entrance door? My state is Texas.

    • Krissa says:


      The short answer is, employers can assign specific accessible parking spaces for their employees, as long as those spots comply with the ADA requirements for accessible parking, that is: a minimum of 2% spaces must be accessible, with access aisles, well-marked signage, and on the shortest accessible route to the building entrance. As long as the parking lot is compliant, the law doesn’t specify how employers can and cannot assign spaces within that lot.

      However, if the space is much farther from the entrance than the closest spaces, you should point out that the “shortest accessible route” requirement is being stretched unfairly in your case, and see whether they’re willing to assign you a better accessible space to reduce the burden and properly accommodate you. If they’re not willing to work with you, consider getting in touch with Disability Rights Texas: and asking them for guidance.

  11. Donna Day says:

    My desk is within 120 feet of accessible entrance and handicapped parking. My employer requires I park in an area closer to the entrance which is over 700 feet from my desk, handicaped emplyee parking.
    Does ‘accessible’ mean closest to the actual job site from the accessible entrance via handicapped parking? Thus referring to an entrance, and the distance to the job site is not in question.
    Thank you
    Donna day

    • Conrad Lumm says:

      Hi, Donna- This is an extremely complicated question, and even under the best of circumstances, there are some judgment calls involved. The answer depends on the type of business you work for, as well as some details on the building (is it a historical landmark? Is it a sports facility? There are dozens of different sets of requirements, which you can read about here). In general, though, your employer is required to give you access to the closer entrance unless it imposes a serious difficulty on them. I would call their attention to 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(5), which says that if accommodating you isn’t tough for them, they should do it. The standard for what’s reasonable is really high. Letting you use a parking spot that already exists and is nearby will sound like a reasonable effort.

  12. Dan says:

    We are a private business that is being forced to have a handicap spot. This spot often gets taken by non-employees and we are useless against them.

    How can we get the handicap spot lawfully removed? Because this is total bullshit

    • Debbie Moore says:

      Hi, Dan!

      If you really want your accessible parking removed, you have two options that I can think of:
      Option 1. First, make sure that the area around your business is OK for residential uses. If it is, dissolve your business, fire your employees, and turn the building into a private residence.
      Option 2. Put up signage notifying the public that your entire lot is private, forbidding the public from entering. You can also put up a fence and only give employees the key. You will have to keep the accessible parking, but at least you won’t have to deal with the public! For many businesses, telling the public they’re not allowed in creates problems, though.

      If you’d like to stay in business while following federal law, you have two very different options:
      Option 1. If the non-employees parking in the accessible parking spots are there illegally, call a towing company and have them towed. You’re not powerless. Not only is towing legal, sometimes it’s legally required. Check the laws in your state, and then follow them.
      Option 2. If your problem is that you have both employees and non-employees with disabilities and the non-employees are getting to the spots before employees are, you should consider building more accessible parking spots, not killing the one you have. You can do this by restriping and putting up new signs. That way, you are accommodating both employees with disabilities and also the public.

      Good luck!

  13. Steven says:

    I currently work at an office location in a heavily populated downtown area and parking is hard to come by generally. My employer offers parking that they have contracted from the facilities management but there is a 2 year waiting list to get a spot. I have been lucky to find parking that is relatively close but quite expensive and not guarenteed. If I manage to lose out on it, it would require me to walk further than I can to get to work without hurting myself. I’ve requested that I receive a spot in the contracted lot but my company has no formal process and is utterly confused/unresponsive.

    My understanding is that as long as the parking (even if the facility is not owned by my company) is a benefit provided to the general employee populaion, then the company should provide designated spot(s) for persons with disabilities. Is that a correct assessment?

    Also, it is my understanding that the waiting list isn’t 100% fair in that employees with certain titles/levels get fast tracked up the list.

    • Conrad Lumm says:

      Hi, Steven! I’m don’t know some of the important nuances of your situation, but I’ll answer as best I can.

      First of all, I’m uncertain whether it’s a violation of civil rights for a parking manager to prioritize muckety-mucks for parking over people with disabilities – that’s the kind of thing that has probably been decided by a court, but since I’m not a lawyer and am barred from providing legal advice, I can’t really comment, except to say that it sounds unfair. I’d definitely take that one up with a lawyer. Depending on what state you’re in, you may have standing for a civil rights lawsuit.

      As for the more general parking situation, the company is required to provide a limited number of parking spots for people with disabilities as close as possible to the worksite’s entrance, if and only if they are providing it for all employees. Note that the goal is parity – if they’re providing off-site parking and busing in people without disabilities closer to the job site, then under the ADA, they are required to do at least the same thing for people with a disability. Whether they’re required to provide parking closer to the site depends on how easy it is for them to do so. If they have tons of parking close to the site and they’re just reserving it for VIPs, but not providing parking for people with disabilities when it’s “readily achievable,” then that’s a pretty clear ADA violation.

  14. Shirley L. Dancy says:

    Shirley is asking, if there is a handicap parking spot in front of a Post Office ( NDC) and you park there with your handicap parking pass up in the windshield,could your vehicle be towed? Also, if other handicap parking spaces are very far from the building, but they have other parking spots for like the Credit Union, Employees that works up stairs & the Plant Manager right in front of the building. Is it possible for ADA to require the Post Office to put in closer parking for the handicap?

    • Debbie Moore says:

      Hi, Shirley! While I don’t know all the circumstances, you absolutely cannot be towed from an accessible parking spot if you have a valid placard. You might want to make sure your placard is up to date!

      Accessible parking spaces are required to be as close as possible to the entrance of publicly owned buildings. If the accessible parking is farther away than regular parking, then your post office is breaking the law. Even if the lot is shared, the post office is still required to have parking near its entrance. The ADA isn’t a group of people who are going to go after them, though – it’s a body of law that lawyers can use to persuade business owners to do what’s best for people with disabilities. I would refer the manager of the post office to this site, with attention to the Location section on page 2.

      Thanks, and good luck!

  15. Caryn Jaffe says:

    Where can I find the legal information requiring an employee only parking lot with the appropriate # of accessible handicapped spots.. BUT – Level 1 was desigfnated for a certain employer’s workers and level 2-4 was designated for the other employer’s workers. Handicapped spots on level 1 are always open but because I work for the employer who uses the levels 2-4… I am not being allowd to park in the open handicapped spot.

    Where is the info. on whether the garage can designate that a handicapped spot be saved for a specific employer’s workers. Shouldn’t that handicapped spot be open to first come first service PERSON who has a handicapped placard? Again – It’s an all employee card access garage for 2 different employers.

    I have had this issue time and time again. I was once told AT a hospital, that I could not sue certain spots because “those handiacpped spots are onyl for cancer patients”. It’s the same issue here. I don;t have a company #1 handicapped placard or a specific illness/disability placard and the government does not have specific sings for specific types of handicaps. that being the case, I do not understand how it is legal for me, who has a legal handicapped placard and damn good reason for it, to be blocked from parking in an open handicapped spot.

    Here’s the kicker – I was told that my ADA accomodation was not to be able to use my handicapped placard. it was to be able to park in the garage close to my building. I think that’s wrong too.

    • Conrad Lumm says:

      Hi, Caryn-

      People who build accessible parking can’t reserve it for specific disabilities. Not only is that unfair – who says people with cancer should be prioritized above paraplegics, for example? – it’s borderline unethical. Unfortunately, I can’t cite specific law that says that because that’s not how the ADA works. It tends not to enumerate things people can’t do, instead telling us the things people must do in order to be in compliance. But suffice to say that if you were to be towed for parking in the spots at the hospital you mentioned, assuming your own placard and paperwork are in order, the people who requested the tow would be in the wrong – unless the entire lot was reserved for people using a specific oncological facility. That’s different from being reserved for people with cancer, though. In other words, it would be legal to say, “Only people using this one doctor’s office can park here,” but it would be noncompliant to say, “Only people with cancer can park here.”

      As far as your garage situation, that’s more complicated. Job-related disability issues are covered in both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In general, if you find it onerous to get to work from the 2nd floor and it’s easier to get there from the ground floor, that probably falls under what the ADA refers to as a “reasonable accommodation,” since it doesn’t mean building a whole new structure. (Also, removing barriers for people with disabilities is a tax writeoff, and that may be worth mentioning to your employer!) The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that even designating a parking spot especially for you may be considered a reasonable accommodation, so the bar is pretty high – since employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for their employees, I think you should ask them to allow you to park on the first floor. If they refuse, you can point out this page on the EEOC’s site, with particular attention to the “REQUESTING REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION” section. If they still refuse, you’ll need an employment or disability lawyer to work it out.

      Hope that helps!

  16. Cheryl says:

    My employer has a parking lot with handicapped parking. But the other morning a non handicapped person parked in the handicapped. When I notified security he said the employer told him not to do anything about it.In other words the employer will not enforce the law when it comes to parking in the lot. Before this, security always put a warning ticket on any car that was illegally parked there but now all handicapped spaces are open for anyone to park there. Are they allowed to get away with that.

    • Conrad Lumm says:

      If you have already asked them to reserve the parking spaces informally, your next step would be to inform the company’s management of their legal responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If management refuses to comply, your next option would be to consult a licensed attorney.

  17. Sarah says:

    I work for a public entity. They designate street parking a block away. Our building is attached to a large bank, and another smaller bank is behind us. The actual parking lot is split between the two banks, there are only 3 designated ADA spots. None of the three specifically state they are for bank customers/employees only. Surrounding non ADA spots are designated as bank customers/employees only.

    If there is no signage present, can I legally park in the ADA slot with my placard, even if one of the bank employees tells me it’s for customers only?

    • Conrad Lumm says:

      Hi, Sarah-

      Not having seen the site, I can’t be 100% certain, because it depends on how the customers/employees only status of the lot is designated. If there’s a customers/employees only sign that’s presumed to cover the entire lot, then no, you definitely can’t park there (well, you can, but depending on your state, they can probably tow you). In other words, the ADA-compliant spots aren’t implicitly public-access just because they’re there for people with disabilities. There are ADA compliance requirements for lots that are customers-only, too.

  18. D Zamarron says:

    I work in a large medical professional building that’s attached to the hospital. (North Cypress Medical Center, Cypress, TX) The professional building where I work has adequate handicap spaces but employees are not allowed to use them. The employee parking lot is approximately a block away from the building and employees are required to park there. Handicap parking does no good at that point if you’re required to walk a block away! I’ve been told that my vehicle will be towed if I park in a handicap parking space of the customer/patient parking lot. Handicap parking spaces are not designated as “customer/patient handicap parking only”. I was also told that since it’s privately owned they have the right to tow employee vehicles that are parked in handicap spots regardless of having required placard placed on rear view mirror. I’ve been instructed to call and they will have security pick me up from employee parking lot but to keep in mind that transporting employees is not a priority, so all other calls take priority. Is this legal?

    • Conrad Lumm says:

      Not having seen the actual parking lot, we can’t be sure. But, if all employees are required by the employer to park in a particular parking lot, and the employee parking lot has enough handicapped spaces that otherwise comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, then they’re complying with their legal obligations. That said, depending on the nature of your disability, you might be able to petition your employer to have a reserved parking space in the customer lot as a reasonable accommodation.

  19. jackie haris says:

    my question is when go a school for pickup and you have a handicap tag due too illness and age and all space blocked with a line of cars the way I understand code 120-3-20-17 in Atlanta,ga you can not block the space with a line of cars for pick up.what can you do

    • Conrad Lumm says:

      We encourage you to raise the issue with the school’s management. While you may have a remedy available through the courts, often the best way to come to a solution is to speak to the school’s principal about the problem.

  20. Marie says:

    I live in KY and have a handicap placard. My employer owns the building and property where I am employed. I have already provided the company that I work for with a dr. note and a copy of the application I turned into the DMV to obtain the handicap placard. My employer is still insisting that my dr. must complete their paperwork because it is company protocol in order for me to continue parking in the assigned handicap space. Is the company within their legal rights to do this?

  21. Pamela S Hayes says:

    What about a medical office building where one business posts their name on handicap spaces for their customers only. There were no other available spaces – is it enforceable for them to tow my car?

    • Debbie Moore says:

      Yes. They can tow your car.

      • Nancy says:

        Are you sure about that? My understanding is you can not ticket a car with a handicap placard under any circumstances but you can get a ticket

        • Debbie Moore says:

          I’m about 80% sure. There might be circumstances in this lot that I didn’t know about, but if a lot is privately managed/owned and the owner limits access (to customers), as long as there are enough accessible parking spots for people he or she does allows to be there to be ADA-compliant, the owner is perfectly within his or her rights to tow as appropriate, as long as they have clearly posted rules. Towing laws vary a lot, though – hence the 20%! I’m not a lawyer, this isn’t legal advice, and I don’t know enough about this specific case to be 100% certain.

          Police or lot owners can definitely ticket or tow a car with a placard, though. If a car with a placard is blocking a fire lane, for instance, it’s creating a public safety hazard whether or not there’s a placard in the window, and that’s not allowed for all of our sakes!

  22. Kimberly Sepe says:

    Hi, I work at a medical clinic for the U.S. Air Force. In the front of the building, where patients would park, there are handicapped spaces. In the back parking lot, where some of the employees park there is not 1 handicapped space. I was told that there are enough handicapped parking spaces in the front for both patients and employees. Doesn’t every parking lot have to have handicapped accessible parking?

  23. kathy lewellen says:

    hi i work at a factory that has about 200 people they have 1 handycap parking how many are they suppost to have .there is about 3or 4 of us that’s handycap what are the codes for this

    • Debbie Moore says:

      Hi, Kathy, there are (rare) exceptions, but the Federal minimum for 200 total spots is 6 accessible parking spots — one for vans and 5 for cars. It sounds like your company is out of compliance.

  24. Cindy says:

    We are a manufacturing company (in Michigan) so have mostly employee parking (135 employees), not public parking. We have 4 visitor space for customers or vendors. How many handicap spaces do we need? Thank you.

    • Debbie Moore says:

      Michigan law may vary in ways that I don’t know about – Florida, for example, requires more – but the federal minimum for 139 spots is 5 accessible spots, 1 for vans (with an aisle) and 4 for cars (close to the entrance — there are other requirements, which you should look up). It doesn’t matter that your lot is private because your employees still have to be able to park, and may have qualifying disabilities.

  25. michael rohloff says:

    I have an employer that has off site employee parking. For only select employees. Now they are saying that i am in that group and my handicap license plate does not allow me access to the handicap spots where i have been parking. I thought a handicap plate gave you access to any handicap spot at ant time that isn’t assigned in either public or private lots?

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