The EEOC on March 25 issued long-awaited final regulations to the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA), clarifying many of the confusing provisions contained in the 2009 law.
Likely impact: The final regulations further expand the ADAAA’s goal of broadening the definition of “disability” under the ADA. As a result, a greater number of employees will be covered under federal disability law and be eligible to file ADA-related claims.
These regulations modify the terms underlying the definition—such as “impairment,” “major life activity,” and “substantially limits”—in favor of “broad coverage to the maximum extent permitted” by the ADAAA.
“To say the definition of ‘disability’ has been broadened is an astonishing understatement,” says attorney John Coleman of Burr & Forman in Birmingham, Ala. “Any breathing plaintiff’s lawyers should be able to put on enough evidence to prove this standard.”
The stated goal of the final regulations—like that of the ADAAA—is to limit extensive analysis over whether an employee’s ailment does or does not qualify as an ADA-covered disability. Instead, it encourages courts to focus on whether employers have “complied with their obligations and whether discrimination has occurred.”
“You need to accept the employee’s disability unless it’s completely outrageous. Then do as much as possible to accommodate it,” says Jeff Portnoy, an attorney with Cades Schutte in Honolulu.
The ADAAA was passed because Congress believed that U.S. courts were interpreting the definition of “disability” too narrowly.
These new regulations modify or remove language that groups representing disability interests had found confusing or had interpreted in a manner not intended by the EEOC. They also provide examples of impairments that should be concluded to be disabilities, including epilepsy, diabetes, cancer, HIV infection, and bipolar disorder.
Online resources: Find links to the regulations, an EEOC compliance Q&A and three law firms’ analysis of the new rules at www.theHRSpecialist.com/adaaarules.
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