Q. I have had a number of questions about recent amendments to the ADA. Can you provide a brief explanation of what the changes mean?
A. Many in Congress felt that the courts had interpreted the ADA too technically and had defeated the purpose of the law. For example, some courts have held that individuals with a variety of physical or mental impairments such as AIDS, cancer and bipolar disorder do not have a disability within the meaning of the ADA.
The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), effective Jan. 1, 2009, was passed to provide greater opportunities and protections to people with disabilities.
While the amendments addressed many aspects of the ADA, one change that trumps all others in terms of its effect: Congress clearly intended that the term “disability” should be broadly interpreted.
In brief, the ADAAA directs the EEOC to redefine the term “substantially limits,” making it easier for employees to show a disability limits their major life activities. It expands the definition of affected “major life activities,” making it easier to label an impairment a protected disability. It states that employers may not consider mitigating measures (other than glasses or contact lenses) in assessing whether an individual has a disability.
The amendments clarify that episodic impairments or those in remission are disabilities if they would substantially limit a major life activity when active. Employees subjected to an action prohibited by the ADA (e.g., failure to hire) because of an actual or perceived impairment will meet the “regarded as” definition of disability, unless the impairment is transitory and minor. It states that individuals covered only under the “regarded as” prong are not entitled to reasonable accommodation.
Expect an increase in the number of employees filing ADA complaints with the EEOC, and a resulting increase in ADA lawsuits.