A recent case provides a good reminder to employers that temporary medical impairments can still be disabilities that trigger the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In Skerce v. Torgeson Electric Co., the employee suffered an elbow injury for which he initially took leave and was then assigned light duty due to lifting restrictions. His doctor released him back to duty after three months. He was later terminated in a reduction in force, and brought suit, claiming a violation of his rights under the ADA. The trial court found, however, that his elbow condition did not constitute a disability within the meaning of the ADA because it was temporary in nature.
The ADA has a three-pronged definition of disability: (1) an actual disability; (2) a record of disability; and (3) regarded as a disability. Originally, the ADA was interpreted to exclude temporary conditions – meaning those lasting less than six months – from the overall definition of a disability. However, the ADA was amended in 2008 to broaden its coverage. As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit explained, under the amended ADA, temporary conditions can meet the definition of disability under the “actual” and “record of” prongs, as long as they are substantially limiting with regard to a major life activity. The temporary condition exclusion was retained only as to the “regarded as” prong.