Employment Law Topics

Employment Law Topic ADAAA

A. In General

The ADAAA (Americans with Disability Act Amendments Act) is intended to overturn a series of Supreme Court decisions that interpreted the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 in a way that made it difficult to prove that an impairment is a "disability." The ADAAA makes significant changes to the ADA's definition of "disability" that broadens the scope of coverage under both the ADA and Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act.

B. What are the major changes made by the ADAAA?

The ADAAA retains the basic definition of "disability" as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. However, the ADAAA:

Broadens the definition of 'disability' by modifying key terms of that definition by:

  • Expanding the definition of 'major life activities';
  • Redefining who is 'regarded as' having a disability;
  • Modifying the regulatory definition of 'substantially limits;
  • Specifying that "disability" includes any impairment that is episodic or in remission if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active; and
  • Prohibiting consideration of the ameliorative effects of "mitigating measures" when assessing whether an impairment substantially limits a person's major life activities, with one exception.

C. The ADAAA also:

  • Adds a new provision restricting employers' use of qualification standards, tests, or other selection criteria that are based on uncorrected vision standards;
  • Clarifies that an individual who satisfy only the "regarded as" prong of the definition of disability is not entitled to 'reasonable accommodation'; and
  • Modifies the language of the ADA's "General Rule" that prohibited discrimination against "a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual" to say that discrimination is prohibited against "a qualified individual on the basis of disability."

D. What is the expanded definition of 'major life activities' under the ADAAA?

Under the ADAAA, 'major life activities' is expanded to include "major bodily functions." The statute contains a non-exhaustive list of "major life activities" that adds additional activities to those currently listed in the ADA and Section 503 regulations, and a non-exhaustive list of "major bodily functions." Specifically, the ADAAA provides that:

Major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.

Major Bodily Functions include, but are not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.

E. How does the ADAAA define 'regarded as' having a disability?

The ADAAA redefines and dramatically expands the scope of coverage under the "regarded as" prong of the definition of "disability." To satisfy the "regarded as" standard an individual need only show that he or she has been subjected to an action prohibited under the statute (e.g., termination; failure to hire) because of an actual or perceived impairment. It is no longer necessary that the impairment be perceived by the employer to limit or "substantially limit" a major life activity. However, to satisfy the "regarded as" standard, an impairment must not be one that is "transitory and minor." The ADAAA defines a "transitory" impairment as an impairment with an "actual or expected duration of 6 months or less."

Meeting the "regarded as" standard does not mean that a person has been the victim of unlawful discrimination. It means only that a person is an individual with a disability entitled to the protections of the ADA or Rehabilitation Act. Whether unlawful discrimination occurred is a separate determination

(Source: www.dol.gov)