No More “Business As Usual”: ADAAA Regulations Will Be a Bear for Employers

The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 and the Final Rule interpreting the ADAAA, which was issued last month by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, will mean significant changes for employers who are dealing with employees’ medical conditions.

Simply put, the ADAAA and the EEOC’s new regulations mean that virtually anyone with a medical condition will arguably have a “disability” within the meaning of the ADA. The express purpose of the ADAAA was to significantly ease, if not eliminate, the plaintiff’s burden of showing as a threshold matter that he or she had a “disability” and thus was entitled to the non-discrimination and reasonable accommodation protections of the Act.

On the surface, the Amendments Act and the regulations do not change an employer’s other ADA obligations. However, the breadth of the new definition of “disability” means that many more employees and applicants will be “protected,” which in turn means that employers are vulnerable to claims from a larger class of individuals and will have to consider reasonable accommodations in many more cases than before.

The original ADA defined “disability” as a physical or mental impairment that “substantially limited” a “major life activity,” or a record (history) of such an impairment. It also protected individuals who were “regarded as” (or perceived as) having such impairments. As interpreted by the courts, “substantial limitation” meant a significant limitation when compared with the general population, and generally required that the condition be both long-term and severe. The original list of “major life activities” was relatively short, and included walking, speaking, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, breathing, learning, and working. To be substantially limited in the major life activity of working, the individual had to be substantially limited in working, plus one additional major life activity.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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