After years of federal courts narrowing the useability of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Congress amended the law to clarify that the ADA has broad coverage. Although the ADA Amendments Act dates from 2008, the regulations are just now final, after lots of commentary.
The amendments overturned the trend in the courts to make it difficult to establish that someone was indeed “disabled.” For awhile, a plaintiff had to walk a tightrope: disabled enough to fall under the act’s protections, but not so disabled that she could not perform the job.
The regulations may not be popular with employers, but clarity is always better than gray areas, which only lead to more litigation. The EEOC’s regulations list a host of conditions that should nearly always be considered a disability under the law. This could forestall a lot of court fights. For example, the EEOC lists cancer, cerebral palsy, HIV infection, multiple sclerosis, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, diabetes and epilepsy. In addition, although pregnancy is a temporary condition, a pregnancy-related impairment that substantially limits a major life activity qualifies as a disability.
The amendments also ease the proof burden for employees or applicants claiming that they were discriminated against based on their being “regarded as” having a disability. Now, a person no longer has to prove that the employer perceived him as substantially limited in the ability to perform a major life activity, or that the perceived disability itself qualifies under the ADA. The regulations use these examples:
“if an employer refused to hire an applicant because of skin graft scars, the employer has regarded the applicant as an individual with a disability. Similarly, if an employer terminates an employee because he has cancer, the employer has regarded the employee as an individual with a disability.”
These regulations are designed to protect people with disabilities from unlawful discrimination, and also make clear what actions qualify as unlawful discrimination. In that regard, they do a service to employers and employees alike.