Americans With Disabilities Act Protect Employees with Disabilities
Since 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has protected qualified individuals with disabilities from employment discrimination in the workplace. The ADA makes it illegal to discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training and other term, conditions and privileges of employment.
Under the law, a disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. A qualified individual with a disability is a person with a disability who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job he/she holds or desires. A threshold requirement for employees claiming protection under the ADA is establishing that they are disabled as the term is defined. The court rulings interpreting the provisions of the ADA have strictly construed the term, requiring substantial limitation in major life activities in order to qualify for protection under the Act. Courts also considered impairments in their mitigated states(with corrections from assistive devices or medications) when making the disability analysis.
Amendments Broaden Definition of Disability
In 2008, Congress passed revisions to the ADA which became effective January 1, 2009. The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) significantly broadens the once narrow analysis of what constitutes a disability, rejecting the stricter standard set by the Supreme Court. The ADAAA significantly broadens the definition of major life activities to list such things as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, lifting, bending speaking, learning, concentrating, working, and major bodily functions (including bladder/bowel functions, reproductive functions, respiratory/circulatory functions). This change eases the threshold burden for employee claimants under the Act. The amendment also requires that when determining whether an applicant or employee has a covered impairment, the mitigating effects of medication or medical equipment or devices (with the sole exceptions being ordinary eye glasses or contact lenses) should not be considered.
The Lesson: Many questions remain regarding how specific fact situations will be analyzed under the new provisions. What seems clear is that the burden for employees seeking to qualify for protection under the Acts will be less onerous. Employers will be wise to note these changes in the law and to consider them when making employment decisions.
Allen & Gooch is providing this legal update for informational purposes only. This article should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion as to any specific facts or circumstances. You should consult your own attorney concerning your particular situation and any specific legal questions you may have.