EEOC issues final ADAAA regs

March 29, 2011
in Employment Law

The EEOC has issued final regulations for implementing the ADA Amendment Acts (ADAAA), clarifying many of the provisions contained in legislation that was enacted in January 2009.

The law was designed to make it easier to determine who has a disability covered by the ADA—and make it easier for disabled people to make the case that the ADA covers them.

The likely result of the final regulations, according to employment law attorneys: More ADA cases will probably go to trial.

The final ADAAA regulations clarify that:

  • The ADA language that a condition must “substantially limit” a major life activity in order to be covered now requires a lower standard than before. An impairment does not need to prevent or severely or significantly restrict a major life activity to be considered “substantially limiting.” Nonetheless, not every impairment will constitute a disability.
  • The term “substantially limits” is to be construed broadly in favor of expansive coverage, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA.
  • The determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity requires an individualized assessment. That was true before the ADAAA was enacted.
  • With one exception (“ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses”), the determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity shall be made without regard to the effects of mitigating measures, such as medication or hearing aids.
  • An impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active.
  • When determining if disability discrimination occurred, courts should focus more on the alleged discrimination, not whether someone is actually disabled.

The ADAAA overturned several Supreme Court decisions that Congress believed had interpreted the definition of “disability” too narrowly, resulting in a denial of protection for many individuals with impairments such as cancer, diabetes or epilepsy.

The ADAAA states that the definition of disability should be interpreted in favor of broad coverage of individuals.

The effect of these changes is to make it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that he or she has a disability within the meaning of the ADA.

The final regulations differ in a number of ways from regulations initially proposed in 2009. The new regulations modify or remove language that groups representing employer or disability interests had found confusing or had interpreted in a manner not intended by the EEOC.

For example, instead of providing a list of impairments that would “consistently,” “sometimes,” or “usually not” be disabilities, the final regulations provide the rules to guide the analysis.

The result: Some impairments will virtually always constitute a disability.

The regulations also provide examples of impairments that should easily be concluded to be disabilities, including epilepsy, diabetes, cancer, HIV infection, and bipolar disorder.

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