The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), originally enacted in 1990, was designed to prohibit employment discrimination against people with disabilities. Now, Congress is considering reforms to the ADA that could significantly expand the scope of the ADA and require more employers to provide accommodations to a greater number of employees. 

Currently before Congress is the ADA Restoration Act, a bill sponsored by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD). The new legislation would change the definition of “disability” to mean simply “a physical or mental impairment” and remove the current requirement that the disability “substantially limit” a major life activity of the individual. The Restoration Act would also prohibit courts from considering the impact of any mitigating measures the individual may or may not be taking (such as medication) when determining whether the individual is disabled. Notably, the act also instructs that all of its provisions should be “broadly construed” to achieve the underlying purpose of ending employment discrimination based on disability.

The Restoration Act comes in response to what some perceive as the courts diluting the protections that Congress originally intended. Proponents of the act point to decisions such as Toyota Manufacturing Kentucky, Inc. v.Williams, a 2001 Supreme Court decision that held that an employee who suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome was not disabled under the ADA because the condition did not substantially limit the employee in a major life activity.

Some business associations, such as the Society for Human Resources Management and the United States Chamber of Commerce, have cautioned Congress against adopting the ADA Restoration Act. Such groups have expressed concern that revising the definition of disabled could expand the ADA far beyond what Congress initially intended. They argue that if employers are forced to accommodate employees with relatively minor impairments, it could reduce their ability to provide appropriate accommodations to those employees with more serious disabilities.

For more information about this subject or to discuss ways in which these proposed changes may impact your business, please contact Gardere Wynne Sewell’s Labor and Employment attorneys.