On March 24, 2011, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) published its final regulations concerning the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) that established a broad definition of “disability.” The EEOC also provided new interpretive guidance to address concerns posed when the Act which was passed in 2008. Does the ADAAA expand the pool of qualified individuals who can file disability discrimination claims? Yes. Do the final regulations offer some relief for employers from the initially proposed regulations? Thankfully, yes.Some highlights of the final regulations include the following:
- ADAAA’s Primary Goal.The focus remains whether or not an employer complies with its employment law obligations.
- Major Life Activity Limitation.With the reinstatement of the “condition, manner and duration” factors in determining whether or not an employee is substantially limited in a major life activity (including “working”), an employer may compare such an employee to “most people in the general population.”
- Duration. The EEOC suggests that substantial limitations cannot be set in a rigid timeframe. A disability may be considered as one covering a long period (i.e. a few months) or one with “sufficiently severe” impairments covering only a short period (i.e. several days) of time.
- Employer Coverage.The “regarded as” clause of what is considered a disability points to the employer’s treatment of the employee versus the employer’s perception of the employee’s impairment. Minor and transitory claims would not be accepted under this provision.
- Individualized Assessments.Any impairment requires an individualized assessment to determine whether or not it meets the definition of “disability.”
Does the new ADAAA still make it easier for employees to file unfair discrimination claims alleging employer perceptions of them as being disabled? Unfortunately, yes. In turn, generally assume that most employees with physical (or mental) impairments are covered under state and federal disability laws. So, make sure to consistently engage in good faith efforts and be able to document your company’s interactive process efforts with your affected employees, particularly in case your company is ever questioned or audited.