On March 25, 2011, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued new regulations governing the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA). The regulations greatly broaden the definition of “disability” under the ADAAA, making clear that to “substantially” limit a major life activity, an impairment need not be “significantly” or “severely” limiting, as was previously established by Supreme Court precedent. Among other things, the list of impairments has been expanded to best define what it means to be disabled. Conditions covered include autism, cancer, cerebral palsy, diabetes, epilepsy, HIV infection, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia. Employers now have fewer than 60 days until the new regulations become effective on May 24, 2011. .
Broader Definition of Disability.
The ADAAA and the new regulations broaden the definition of “substantially limits” and “major life activity.” A person need no longer be “significantly or severely restricted” in a major life activity to be found to be disabled. Rather, an impairment is now a disability if it “substantially limits” the individual “as compared to most people in the general population.” Moreover, “major life activities” now include all activities that are “of central importance to daily life,” including (but not limited to) “caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, sitting, reaching, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, interacting with others, and working,” the “operation of a major bodily function,” and “the operation of an individual organ within a body system.” The new regulations make clear that both “substantially limits” and “major life activity” should be “construed broadly” in favor of “expansive coverage,” and are not meant to be “demanding standards.”
Here is brief summary of the new regulations from McGuire Woods
ADAAA: The Basics
The ADAAA protects, among other persons, “qualified individuals with a disability” from unlawful discrimination or harassment. It further requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to such employees to enable them to perform essential job functions, with various exceptions.
The statute sets forth three main prongs under which an individual may be covered by the ADAAA. An applicant or employee may:
1.Have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
2.Have a record (or past history) of such an impairment; or
3.Be regarded as having a disability.
The ADAAA also protects applicants and employees if they are victims of discrimination because of family, business, social or other relationships with a disabled individual.
Neither the ADAAA, which governs acts alleged to have occurred on or after Jan. 1, 2009, nor the new regulations change the original statutory definition of disability. Instead, the ADAAA added language specifically overturning several Supreme Court cases that substantially narrowed the number of individuals who fell into each of the three main coverage categories above. The new regulations, in turn, provide rules of construction for courts to employ that should guide the “individualized assessment” of whether an applicant or employee has an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. The net effect of the ADAAA and the regulations is to make it easier for individuals who have mental or physical impairments to qualify for protection under the ADAAA
What Do the ADAAA Regulations Mean for Employers?
The primary impact of the new regulations is that employers’ ability to defend disability discrimination claims will no longer focus as intently on whether an employee is covered under the ADAAA. Instead, cases will focus on whether the employee and employer properly engaged in the interactive process, whether a reasonable accommodation was provided, and if not, why. Employers will also continue to maintain the burden of proving “undue hardship” to proposed accommodations. full summary