Personnel Management Systems, Inc.
EEOC Announces Final Regulations for the ADA
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has finally published the long awaited implementation regulations to the ADA (referred to as the ADAAA). Designed to simplify the determination of who has a “disability,” these regulations make it easier for people to establish that they are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
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 keep the ADA’s definition of the term “disability” as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; a record (or past history) of such an impairment; or being regarded as having a disability. But the law made significant changes in how those terms are interpreted and the regulations implementing those changes.
Based on the statutory requirements, the regulations set forth a list of principles to guide the determination of whether a person has a disability. For example, the principles provide that an impairment need not prevent or severely or significantly restrict performance of a major life activity in order to be considered a disability. Additionally, whether or not an impairment is a disability should be construed broadly, to the maximum extent allowable under the law. The principles also provide that, with one exception (ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses), “mitigating measures” such as medication and assistive devices like hearing aids, must not be considered when determining whether or not someone has a disability. Furthermore, impairments that are episodic (such as epilepsy) or in remission (such as cancer) are considered disabilities if they would be substantially limiting when active.
The regulations clarify that the term “major life activities” includes “major bodily functions” such as functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, and brain, neurological, and endocrine functions and include examples of impairments that should easily be concluded to be disabilities, such as HIV infection, diabetes, epilepsy, and bipolar disorder. But, as under the old ADA, not every impairment will constitute a disability.
Following the dictates of the ADAAA, the regulations also make it easier for individuals to establish coverage under the “regarded as” part of the definition of “disability.” Establishing such coverage used to pose significant hurdles, but under the new law, the focus is on how the person was treated rather than on what an employer believes about the nature of the person’s impairment.
The Commission has released two Question-and-Answer documents about the regulations to aid the public and employers – including small business – in understanding the law and new regulations. The ADAAA regulations, accompanying Question and Answer documents and a fact sheet are available on the EEOC website at www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/adaaa_info.cfm.
We understand that this is a confusing area of employment. If you need assistance with ADA questions or policies, or with any other Human Resource issue, call on Personnel Management Systems.
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