Redefining the Concept of a Disabled Employee under the ADA

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission promulgated new regulations on the issue of how to define “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The guidance identifies a list of new conditions that would come under the definition of a disability, including autism, diabetes, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The purpose and intent of the Act was to protect employees and ensure that employers provide reasonable accommodations to allow a qualified individual with a disability to obtain or continue employment.  With the expansion of the definition of disability, opponents argue that the guidance will make it difficult to argue that the employee is not disabled and the number of disabled individuals covered by the Act will increase significantly, resulting in unintended obligations to accommodate employees.

The proponents of the new regulations and guidance counter that the protections accorded under the Act will remain limited to a qualified individual with a disability who is able to demonstrate that the disability does not prevent him or her from establishing the ability to perform in a reasonable manner the activities involved in the job or occupation sought.

Both sides acknowledge that a legal challenge to the new regulations is inevitable.

This post was contributed by Charles Dunham.