On March 25, 2011, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued final regulations implementing the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA), which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of disability. The ADAAA was signed into law by President George W. Bush on September 25, 2008 and went into effect on January 1, 2009.
Under the ADAAA, the definition of disability “is to be construed in favor of broad coverage to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the Act as amended.” Likewise, the EEOC’s implementing regulations are expressly intended to simplify the determination of who has a disability and make it easier for individuals to establish that they are protected by the Act.
Some significant aspects of the regulations include the following:
- The new regulations do not include terms to quantify “substantially limits.” Instead, the regulations instruct that “substantially limits” should be construed broadly in favor of expansive coverage to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the Act. “Substantially limits” is a lower threshold than “prevents” or “severely or significantly restricts.” Accordingly, an impairment does not need to “severely or significantly restrict a major life activity” to be considered substantially limiting.
- The regulations state that the determination of whether an impairment “substantially limits a major life activity” must be made without considering whether that limitation can be mitigated by something external (for example, a hearing aid or medication). However, the ADAAA and the regulations do make a single exception for poor vision mitigated by eyeglasses or contact lenses.
- In determining whether an activity is a “major life activity,” the regulations specify that the term “major” must not be interpreted strictly. Whether an activity is a “major life activity” is not determined by reference to whether it is of “central importance to daily life.”
- The regulations also clarify the “regarded as” prong of the definition of disability under the Act. Whether a person is “regarded as” disabled is defined by how that person has been treated as a result of a nontransitory physical or mental ailment, not by whether the employer believed he/she had a disability. The concepts of “substantially limits” and “major life activities” are not relevant in evaluating coverage under the “regard as” prong. Therefore, in order to have regarded an individual as having a disability, the employer need not have considered whether he/she was substantially limited in a major life activity, and an individual claiming to have been regarded as such need not demonstrate that he/she is substantially limited in a major life activity. Cases in which an applicant or employee does not require reasonable accommodation can be evaluated solely under the “regarded as” prong of the definition of disability.