Apr 27, 2011

"Disability" Under ADA to Cover More Workers

Does your small business employ individuals who are disabled within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act? The answer is more likely to be "yes" today than it was earlier this year, thanks to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's recent adoption of regulations implementing the ADA Amendments Act of 2008.

The ADA defines "disability" as a "physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity." The new regulations do not change the definition itself, but make it clear that the government will interpret the ADA more broadly than in the past.

For instance, the new regulations provide that, in almost every case, disabled status is to be evaluated without consideration of ameliorative measures, such as medication, even if the employee can function without limitations with appropriate medication or other mitigating measures. The only exception is that an employee is not considered disabled on the basis of a vision impairment, so long as the impairment can be corrected with ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses.

Similarly, the new regulations state that an impairment that is episodic or in remission nevertheless qualifies as a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active. For example, an employee with lung cancer might be considered disabled even if the cancer has been in remission for years.

In addition, the EEOC has taken the guesswork out of determining whether certain employees are disabled. The amendments provide that in most cases, employees with the following conditions are covered by the ADA: deafness, blindness, intellectual disabilities, partially or completely missing limbs, mobility impairments requiring the use of a wheelchair, autism, diabetes, epilepsy, HIV, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia.

If your small business has 15 or more employees, it is covered by the ADA. You should take note of the new regulations and consider training your officers and managers to ensure that all of the company's decision-makers know that your employees might be considered disabled under the ADA, even if the disability is not immediately obvious.

By: Guest blogger Steven Koprince, an attorney with PilieroMazza PLLC in Washington D.C. Mr. Koprince's practice emphasizes government contracts and small business law.